Mike Grella: “It will take me probably a couple of more weeks to really get going and really get fit.” (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Mike Grella enjoyed his longest stint on the field since returning from knee surgery Sunday, but the Red Bulls midfielder hardly was enamored by his performance at Red Bull Arena.
Grella came on for Alex Muyl as a halftime substitute in the 3-1 home loss to the LA Galaxy and let’s say those final 45 minutes of the Major League Soccer match won’t be heading off to the National Soccer Hall of Fame anytime soon.
“I felt OK physically,” Grella said. “My performance was probably the worst I’ve played, probably the worst I’ve had in a Red Bull shirt, but I think it was expected. It’s hard to expect anything more. I’ve been out for a really long time. The only intervention I had in the game was giving up a penalty.”
That occurred in the 78th minute, when the Glen Cove, N.Y. resident knocked down Romain Alessandrini in the box , resulting in an LA penalty kick that Giovani dos Santos converted for the third goal.
“The ball was up the right side pretty much the entire game,” Grella said, adding that he “couldn’t affect the game from the left side. Gave up the penalty. I really don’t want to be that deep defending, but if I have to do it, I have to be a little bit smarter there. Not happy with the performance at all.”
Grella came on as a sub for the three opening matches this season, totaling 98 minutes before he was shelved for about a month due to his surgery. His first game back was for the final 16 minutes in the 3-0 defeat at the Philadelphia Union.
It will take a while before he is up to 100 percent.
When asked when he thought he could go 90 minutes, Grella admitted he did not know.
“It’s a hard question,” he said. “It depends on how training goes. I only have been able to train pretty much full power for a week or a week and a half. Maybe almost two weeks. It will take me probably a couple of more weeks to really get going and really get fit.
“It’s not about 90 minutes fit, it’s more about whether you’re in for 45 minutes or 90 minutes or whatever. I don’t think it’s an endurance issue. It’s more of a sharpness issue. You need to be sharp on the ball, be sharp without the ball, be able to run in behind, be able to fight, be able to jump, be able to scrap. Right now I obviously not at that level yet.”
During his first two years of his Red Bulls tenure, Grella was a vital part of the attack on the left side of midfield. He tallied nine goals and seven assists in 2015, adding seven goals and four assists last season.
Given the Red Bulls’ horrid offensive start, production anywhere on the field will be welcomed and Grella certainly has been welcomed back by his coach and teammates.
“It’s great to have him back,” captain Sacha Kljestan said. “I really enjoy playing with him because he’s a guy that’s really easy to play with. So the more fit we can get Grella, it’s going to be better for our team. Obviously, he’s still disappointed for committing a penalty tonight, but I think its real positive to get him 45 minutes, get his fitness up. He’s got to keep pushing himself because he’s a guy who we really count on.”
Much sooner than later.
“We have to find ways of getting Mike back to the player we know he can be,” head coach Jesse Marsch said.
Definitely much sooner than later.