New York Red Bulls forward Mike Grella opens up on his struggles at Leeds United

Leeds United East Stand

The 28-year-old American scored five goals in 42 appearances during his two-and-a-half-year spell at Elland Road.

New York Red Bulls playmaker Mike Grella may be enjoying a resurgent 2015 season in MLS but, as he has admitted to Yahoo Sport, his time across the Atlantic with Leeds United proved somewhat less fruitful.

A former First-Team All-American and top college prospect thanks to a record of 41 goals in four seasons at Duke University, Grella originally turned down the opportunity to start his professional career in MLS back in 2009 in order to explore European options through his Italian passport.

He soon earned a move to England with then-League One side Leeds following a successful trial but, despite going on to show some clear flashes of potential, the skilful American found life at Elland Road hard going.

His two-and-a-half-year spell, which included a couple of moderately productive loan stints at Carlisle United and Swindon Town, saw him score just five times in 42 appearances for the Yorkshire outfit before being released in August 2011, and he concedes that the experience was a real struggle.

“It was just very difficult,” he told reporter Kristan Heneage. “I was behind guys like [Jermaine] Beckford and [Luciano] Becchio and as soon as one of them got injured they would get a more trusted guy with a bigger CV or someone in the Premiership who needed a run of games.

“Because of the size of the club they were never going to leave it in my hands. I had to prove it all over again. It was a shock mentally. Everyday fighting for your life and your spot.”

After being released by Leeds, Grella went on to have short stints at Brentford, Bury, Scunthorpe United and Danish club Viborg, before returning stateside in 2014 to join the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL.

His spell in the US second tier was an uneventful one, however, and even left him considering retirement before getting one last chance to showcase his talent as a pre-season trialist with his hometown Red Bulls back in the winter.

“I had moved on [before the trial],” he told American Soccer Now last month. “I told my wife I was ready to do different things. I had a jobs lined up in insurance and real estate. I was looking into things like that and it was a pretty scary moment for me. It was pretty much the end of my career.

“It was really depressing because I thought it would have been a huge waste of talent.”

Nevertheless, after impressing enough to land a permanent deal ahead of the 2015 campaign, the Long Island-native has since proved a revelation for Jesse Marsch’s side, wowing fans with his highlight-reel performances, while netting seven times in 28 competitive appearances from the wing.

Dubbed “Grelladinho”, he has so far managed to keep big-name summer signings Gonzalo Veron and Shaun Wright-Phillips out of the line-up and, after scoring his latest goal in last week’s 3-2 comeback win over the Chicago Fire to help send his side to the top of the Eastern Conference, it’s hard to see how either are going to unseat him in the near future.

There is now even talk that the former US Under-20 international is in contention for a first senior call-up which, considering how close he came to giving up the game not long ago, would mark an astounding turnaround from his time toiling in the English lower leagues.

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