Mike Grella: “I just went for it tonight.”(Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Mike Grella put his winning goal against the San Jose Earthquakes into perspective.

“It was a dream return,” the Columbus Crew SC midfielder said. “I’m so blessed.”

Indeed.

In his first competitive match since his devasting knee injury last year, the former Red Bull pulled off a dramatic return, scoring the winning goal in the 84th minute of Columbus’ 2-1 victory at MAPFRE Stadium Saturday night.

As it turns out, Grella’s goal and comeback was the first question asked of Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter at his postgame press conference.

“I’m glad that’s the first question you asked because when a guy goes through something [like] he’s been through, and Gaston [Sauro]’s been through, and they don’t waiver, and they stay strong, and they keep working every single day,” he told reporters after the match. “You can’t be more happy [sic] for guys like that. And when they get their opportunity, to see them take advantage of their opportunity is amazing. This is why I’m proud to be in this business; to see the struggle, and then see the triumph when a guy comes back and is able to make an impact like that. So, for Mike, the whole group is extremely proud of him, and I think it’s a testament to him as a person and as an athlete that he’s been out this long and comes back and can make that type of impact.”

A Glen Cove, N.Y. native, Grella admitted trying to figure out when to return was a challenge. He said he felt good Saturday night in his first competitive match since last June.

“When you’re out for this long, you always have to have some hesitations and some doubts,” he said. “When we [he and Berhalter] had that conversation, we both didn’t really know how to progress from there. I do feel good, and I want to play, and he wants to move me, but it’s a weird thing. How exactly do you introduce me into getting some minutes? We had a conversation, and I think the best way is to just throw me into the fire and get me some time. I feel like I could make an impact. That was basically how that conversation went. We both decided to go for it. Tonight, I didn’t have any hesitations and just went for it. I had really big belief, big faith. I just went for it tonight.”

Grella, who played with the Red Bulls from 2015-17, felt he could score in the limited time he had in the match. He came on in the 65th minute.

“I really did,” he said. “It’s at the back of my mind. I thought I’d play well and do what I can. I knew as soon as I crossed the line after such a long injury, that many times throughout the spirit felt I wouldn’t play again. When I crossed the line to get into the game, I knew that I had already accomplished something really big. So, I felt that, why not try to get something else, a goal or something?”

Fourth-place Columbus (4-3-2, 14 points) needed that win and three points as it snapped a four-game winless streak.

“The games that we haven’t picked up all three points, — and we tied and lost the last four — I thought we’ve played really, really well,” Grella said. “I’ve never seen a team hit the post that many times, and dominate games than not get much from it, so I think we were a little bit unlucky. We also needed a night like tonight, and San Jose wasn’t easy for us. We had to work for it.”