Night in, night out, Real Salt Lake’s engine runs on the fuel provided by the four players in the midfield. On Saturday, that engine was running on high-octane racing fuel.
“We’re looking for both of our outside diamond midfielders to be involved,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said of his midfield core, “It’s a difficult, difficult task. Those guys are playing from box to box and sometimes from end line to end line. I think they did a pretty nice job.”
Ned Grabavoy set himself apart in Saturday’s match. He facilitated the offense through RSL’s best stretches and made the plays that were the difference in the game. That ability to string passes together and create dangerous combination plays is what RSL depends on to score.
A quick glance at Saturday's score sheet will show a single assist attributed to Grabavoy, though that assist does not reflect the impact he had in the match. He was everywhere, chasing down balls, moving the attack forward and playing box to box for a full 90 minutes to grind out a satisfying 2-1 result against a very good Seattle team.
It didn’t take too long for Grabavoy to show flashes of dangerous brilliance, either. Shortly after a dangerous 32nd minute shot on goal, Grabavoy notched his assist on the goal that ended up being the deciding factor in the match.
In the 37th minute, an RSL corner kick came in to Grabavoy, but not in the standard sailing fashion; Sebastian Velasquez opted to play the ball on the ground. Grabavoy then one-timed a perfect swirling ball to Luis Gil’s forehead, and Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning could do nothing but watch as the ball sailed past his outstretched hands for the match’s second goal.
“That was a play that we’ve worked on,” Grabavoy said, “Plays like that can make the difference in a game. That set piece was the difference. You have in your mind how it’s going to work, but you never really know. Tonight, it just came off perfect.”
A second quick glance at the match score sheet does not show, however, several other combination plays that did not end with the ball in the back of the net, yet were no less breathtaking.
“I thought the ideas were there,” Grabavoy said. “They were the right ideas. That was the one where everything worked clean. The movement of the ball was great.”
Grabavoy routinely does much of the under-the-radar work for RSL. It’s what he’s come to expect from his role in the midfield, particularly when Morales is on the pitch. While Morales is roaming, connecting and making plays, Grabavoy holds back, covering defensive ground and facilitating the premier playmaker that Morales is.
“Morales is that guy that can really open the game up through his vision and timing,” Grabavoy said. “The way we’re set up in the midfield is to do a lot of dirty work for a special player like that and to find him at special moments in the game where he can make a play. Tonight we were just a half-second or a half-touch off from him making a lot of plays. It’s good to see him back out there.”
Despite the reserved role he assumes, Kreis, the coaching staff and the rest of the team take notice of his work.
“Everybody worked extremely hard, and Ned was fantastic,” Kries said. “He was instrumental.”