In this edition of Thunder Chat we get a chance to talk with Real Salt Lake midfielder and friend of Thunder Treats, Ned Grabavoy. Some of our staff was lucky enough to get to know Ned during his collegiate days in Bloomington at Indiana University and again for the two years he played with the Columbus Crew. Ned grew up outside Chicago where as a high school senior he was named the 2000-01 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. While playing for the Hoosiers Ned recorded 18 goals and 21 assists in just three seasons. Ned was a co-captain on the 2003 National Championship team when he led Indiana in scoring with 10 goals and 11 assists. Opting to play in the MLS rather then go overseas Grabavoy has played for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Columbus Crew, San Jose Earthquakes, and Real Salt Lake winning the MLS Cup with the Galaxy and most recently Real Salt Lake.
-Has David Beckham’s move to the states brought the MLS to the level they wanted by making this move? Has it helped?
I believe that David Beckham’s move to the MLS has helped in many different aspects. However, I don’t think that he has raised the level of play on the field that much. He is a great player, but soccer is the ultimate team game, and he is closer to the end of his career than his prime. I will say though that his presence has brought an unbelievable marketing and media attention to our league. Regular everyday sports fans in America might not know a ton about the sport they follow, but they love famous people and superstar personalities, and he has brought that without question. He has sold out stadiums, sold countless jerseys, and in revenue growth for MLS I have to believe he has had a significant effect on our league in those aspects.
-How do you think the US National Team looks going into the World Cup?
I have a mixture of feelings on how our National Team will perform at the World Cup. My biggest concern are the injuries that seem to be racking up right now. The U.S. has a deeper talent pool of players now than they ever have, but we our best players to be healthy to compete and make a run deep into the World Cup. You look at injured players like Gooch, Dempsey, Davies, and Clark….and you worry a little bit. Hopefully all those guys will not just get healthy, but fit and in top form before the summer. I will say that we couldn’t have asked for a better draw. I know it’s tough to advance no matter who you have in your group but trust me when I say that’s the group we want to be in. I also think the weather in South Africa is supposed to be cool during that time which is important. You look at past World Cups with hot summer weather and you see the teams that play the best soccer and possess the ball the most due the best. That many games chasing and defending in hot weather can take its toll on you so that’s another positive for us. Also the U.S. typically struggles against teams that are very technical like an Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and Holland(a lot of south American teams). They also struggle against Eastern European teams because those teams can match us athletically especially on set pieces. You’ve seen this in the past with teams like Germany, Poland, and the Chech Republic. However I will say, we have great players in the US and heart and fight can take you a long way and I know a lot of those guys and they will give that every game.
-How do you think the MLS stacks up against the major pro leagues overseas? I understand La Liga, Seria A, and the Premiership are at the top of the lists, but are we (the MLS) even close to Portugal’s pro league (the LPFP), Scotland’s pro league, or even Mexico’s? If not, are we on the right track?
I think the MLS stacks up well against other great leagues across the world. All these leagues have very different styles so it’s tough to compare, but I think it’s a great league because of the parity. Obviously leagues like the Premier league, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy, and most of the European leagues are ahead of us. But all these leagues have big time teams that are always at the top of the tables. MLS is a tossup every year because the teams are so competitive week in week out. The league most compared to MLS is Mexico because its so close and a huge rival. I think there are handful of really good teams in Mexico, but the MLS is much deeper top to bottom. The MLS is getting better every year without question and hopefully some day it will be considered one of the best.
-How have you seen the sport evolve since you started playing when you were young? Did you ever think there would be an MLS growing up?
The sport has evolved so much in the US. People that bash soccer and say it will never compete are absolutely out of their mind. I always tell people that our generations parents never played soccer. This sport will take off when the next generation of our kids do. You look at these teams like Seattle, Toronto, even the new franchise in Philly this year and these teams are selling out their stadiums with season tickets. Here in Salt Lake we had full a full stadium most of the year, and the fans in America are really starting to get into it. Clubs are all building soccer specific stadiums which is important as well. All the soccer bashers out there if I could talk to them again in 15 years when I’m 40 years old I would laugh at them. This is my 7th year in the league and its already a completely different league. I can’t imagine where it will be 15 years from now.
-You have played in a bunch of different cities. Being an Illinois native, was Chicago your favorite place to play?
Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart. I have so many friends in the soccer community in Chicago, and it’s like a big family. I honestly believe the mindset of growing up in that city made me the player I am today. I will say that since I have arrived here in Salt Lake I have thought this place is special. I really feel that this city supports our Club, and I believe our stadium and facilities are some of the best in the league. I can’t wait to defend our championship this year, and hear our fans support throughout the year.
-Can you explain what you were feeling when you stepped up to the PK in the Eastern Conference Finals with a chance to send Real Salt Lake to the Championship Game?
I couldn’t believe I was in the situation to send us through to the final. At Chicago, I subbed in late, and the game ended. Our coach Jason Kreis asked do you want to take a pk and I was like I’m taking one. He then said “you are 7th”. I was like shit man, I’m not even going to shoot. It’s unreal how it played out though. I had a chance to not only win it for my team, but to knock out my hometown team that passed on me when I was drafted in 2004. People can say that they don’t care about past situations, but I will always be honest and say that I’m still pissed to this day that they chose another midfielder instead of taking me. Anyways, it was a great moment for Real Salt Lake and the whole state of Utah. I wasn’t nervous stepping up but overly excited you could say. I’m glad it worked out the way it did in the end.
-Was there more pressure on the PK in the Eastern Conference Finals or the Championship Game?
There was much more pressure in the Eastern Conference Finals for sure. I really think that if I missed that shot we would have lost the game and never made it to the final. In the championship game I shot 4th, and by making my penalty I was putting the pressure on L.A. If they missed their 5th pk the game was over, and even when they made it we had a chance to win it with our last shooter anyways.
-Any superstitions or pre-game rituals?
I have no superstitions or at least I don’t think. You just get into a routine, and whatever works for you is what works. I sleep a ton the night before a game and even during the day before we play. I eat very little which people think is weird. Then when I get into the locker room its just a routine. I don’t consider myself to have superstitions, but I do have a comfort zone that I get in on game days. I find it easier on the road to be honest. I may have family at home games or errands to run. I just don’t like to be bothered on game days. Let me just put it this way my wife thinks that Saturdays during the season are pretty boring.
-If you weren’t playing soccer, you would be…?
If I wasn’t playing soccer I would be in the C.I.A. Have been asked that question since I was 14 years old. Always same response. If you have ever seen the movie spy game that’s what I would want to do.
-Have you given any thought to what you would like to do when you’re done playing soccer?
I always think about what I want to do when I’m done playing, but I can’t imagine not being involved in the game I love anymore. I really want to coach and pass on my experiences as a player to so many others. I would like to be a college coach, and maybe take a chance coaching professionally. Although pro coaching is a much different animal. More managing and a lot of other business aspects.
Best MLS stadium to play in? When not at RSL with our own fans. Seattle, Toronto, Chicago
Favorite bar in Bloomington? Kilroys, well actually all of them
If you could be a character from Saved by the Bell, who would you be? Zack