The former Leeds United player helped the New York Red Bulls clinch a 2-0 win over New York City FC at Red Bull Arena with another piece of trademark skill.
New York Red Bulls striker Mike Grella has embarrassed a fair share of MLS defenders this season with his fancy footwork, but his victim in Sunday night’s 2-0 victory over New York City FC was none other than Frank Lampard.
With the hosts leading 1-0 with five minutes left, the former Leeds United man helped put the game to bed, nutmegging the tiring Lampard while dribbling through NYCFC’s half, before finding Felipe on the edge of the box for his teammate to complete the scoring with a confident finish.
It was the Red Bulls’ third win in three games against their crosstown rivals, who entered the league this season as an expansion team, and also move Jesse Marsch’s men back into second-place in the Eastern Conference, having taken 36 points from their 22 matches.
After losing key men Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill before a highly-controversial coaching change in the off-season, 2015 was expected to be a rebuilding season for the club but, so far, their form has been more akin to Supporters’ Shield contenders.
A big reason for that success has been the pickup of Grella, who signed ahead of the campaign following a successful pre-season trial and has since been exceeding all expectations with some outstanding performances on the left wing, racking up five goals and five assists in 21 league games.
The 28-year-old American is currently getting his first taste of life in MLS, having originally spurned the chance to start his pro career in the States back in 2009 following a glittering college career in order to explore European opportunities through his Italian passport.
He soon found a home in England with then-League One side Leeds but, despite going on to show some flashes of potential, the former Duke Blue Devil could not manage to hold down a regular first-team place during his two-and-a-half seasons at Elland Road.
Released in August 2011 after scoring just five goals in 40 total appearances for the club, the ex-US Under-20 international then bounced around England’s lower leagues and spent time at Danish outfit Viborg before returning stateside to join the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL in April 2014.
His spell in the US third tier was an uneventful one, however, and left him considering retirement before getting one last chance to showcase his talent as a pre-season trialist with his hometown club.
His turnaround since has been nothing short of remarkable and, after outshining the likes of Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and Lampard at Red Bull Arena, it is clear that the Long Island-native is loving his football again.
“I was fighting for my career,” he told the Red Bulls’ official website after the win over NYCFC. “I didn't think it would ever be this good. When I spoke to Jesse [Marsch], I just thought he was an intelligent guy, can manage players well, but he's fantastic, beyond even how good I thought he was.
“I enjoy fighting for the guys next to me, I enjoy fighting for all the guys that are playing, the guys that come off the bench are fantastic. It's just a real family style team, and everyone's fighting for each other.”
The likes of the LA Galaxy will prove tough to topple, but the Red Bulls certainly look like legitimate MLS Cup contenders after adding Shaun Wright-Phillips and Gonzalo Veron to their attack this month and, while their arrivals could cut into Grella’s minutes, his current form is making it impossible for Marsch to take him out of the line-up.
In addition, having once been labelled a future US national team star, the man dubbed “Grelladinho” might not be far off a first senior international call-up if he keeps putting up the same kind of performances over the coming months.