Ex-Leeds forward Mike Grella earns coach's plaudits for MLS emergence

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The New York Red Bulls attacker has put in some impressive performances during the opening months of the 2015 season.

New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch has sung the praises of Mike Grella after the former Leeds United forward’s successful start to life with the MLS club.

Marsch was speaking to MLSSoccer.com after seeing Grella become a core part of his line-up over the first 12 weeks of the 2015 season, making eight starts in 10 appearances, while recording two goals and an assist.

Signed ahead of the new campaign following a successful preseason trial, the New York-native has made Thierry Henry’s old left wing role his own in the absence of injured wide man Sal Zizzo had earned plaudits for both his work ethic and attacking flair.

“[We liked] Mike’s work ethic, his ability to play at the pace that we want to play at and his sharpness in tight spaces,” said Marsch. “Ultimately what impressed all of us was his ability around the goal.

“I think he’s best as a striker, but we’ve asked him to tilt to the left. He has versatility to his game, so even though it’s not his best spot, he’s adapted well and made us good from that position.”

Grella, 28, has been getting just his first taste of life in MLS over recent months, having opted to sign with Leeds in 2009 rather than enter the league following a decorated college career at Duke.

The ex-US Under-20 international showed some flashes of potential during his three seasons at Elland Road, scoring five times in 40 games, but found himself released in the summer of 2011 after failing to crack the line-up.

Indifferent spells with Brentford, Bury, Scunthorpe United and Danish outfit Viborg FF followed before he made his stateside return in 2014 with NASL’s Carolina RailHawks, but he now looks to have found a home with his local side.

Once tipped as a potential US national team star, he has endured some criticism during his career for both failing to fulfil his potential and his supposed poor attitude, but Marsch has been quick to jump to his defence.

“The part about Mike being criticized publicly doesn’t show any respect to all the little things he’s done to make us good,” the former midfielder added. “Some people don’t really see how much ground he covers, how many battles he wins in the air, how he locks down that side of the field, how he helps recover the ball a lot for us.”

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