Mike Grella returns to Red Bull Arena this weekend for the first time as a member of the Columbus Crew.
New York Red Bull fans will no doubt be happy to see Grella, but nonetheless, the experience will be bittersweet. Grella spent three seasons playing for the Red Bulls under Jesse Marsch and was part of the team in 2015 when the club raised their second Supporter’s Shield.
Grella endeared himself to the Red Bulls’ faithful by making a name for himself as a hard-working forward that could score goals in spectacular fashion. In 89 matches, Grella scored 18 goals and chipped in 15 assists across all competitions, good enough for 17th all-time for the club.
Alas, injury sidelined Grella for much of the 2017 season, and his option was not picked up by the club during the offseason. The Colorado Rapids selected and then traded Grella during the Re-Entry draft to the Columbus Crew SC. Since returning from injury, Grella has made 10 appearances, notching a goal and an assist.
RBNN spoke to Grella ahead of his return to Red Bull Arena.
Mike, I think for a lot of Red Bull fans they were sad to see you go. It was difficult with your situation because you were injured. I think a lot of guys wanted to see you come back for the playoffs. Ultimately, losing you was tough for the team, but how was it for you?
It was a strange moment for me because I thought I would be at Red Bull for a while. Maybe without my injury, maybe I still am there. So, it was a strange situation. I’m from NY. I love being there. I thought we did really, really, well. I enjoyed my time there, and we had good results. So, it was a strange move for me. But on the flipside of that. When I spoke to Gregg and since I’ve been here, it’s been really amazing. Amongst the coaches in MLS, I think Jesse and Gregg are probably in the top two, top three coaches in this league.
So, getting a chance to work with Gregg, and getting a chance to try something new was really awesome. Since I’ve been here I’ve learned so much. Even more importantly than that, they’ve helped me get back on the field. The amount of time and patience they’ve put into me has been really remarkable and really amazing. It’s something I’m very grateful for. So, it’s been really good. You know a lot of the time, you are comfortable somewhere, and you don’t want to go because people naturally don’t like change. But I’ve really enjoyed myself so far.
I think change in general is something that the Red Bulls and Red Bull fans have had to deal with quite a bit, especially recently with Jesse heading to Leipzig. I was wondering what your reactions were to that news?
I texted Jesse and congratulated him right away. Just because I think he deserves it. I think he wants to really get to the highest level possible in coaching and he is really paving the way for young American coaches. So, I was really happy for him. Obviously, it will be difficult for the team, but in losing Jesse… When you lose someone that good, but at the same time they replace him with Chris Armas who is someone I look up to a lot in terms of we are both from Long Island.
What he has done in the game as a player, and now as a coach. What he brings every single day. His personality. Anyone you ever talk to about Chris has only the best things to say. So for me, they don’t really miss a step and they keep going in the right direction. But on the flipside, we here at Columbus have a lot of quality, and I’m very proud to be a part of this team.
And I think that the Columbus story, in terms of who has passed through that team, and the success that they’ve had, I think everyone can agree they are one of the storied clubs in MLS. Playing there and trying to integrate into a team that has been pretty close knit, and hasn’t had a ton of turnover over the last couple of years, has that been difficult at all.
Not really to be honest with you. There is a bit in the beginning because I had to recover from my injury. I had to be patient. They had to be patient, and that’s worked out well. Now I’m adding what I can, when I can, and trying to push as hard as I can every single day in training, but in terms of integrating with the team and coaching staff, it’s been really smooth. I love going in every single day. I love the conversations I have with the coaching staff, and with the players. There is a really good comradery in the group, and I feel like I fit right in. It’s been a really smooth transition and I’ve really enjoyed it.
I think it was your first game back, you end up scoring a goal. What was that like for you?
It’s just incredible. I have a lot of faith, I’m a pretty religious guy. That was just something that was really remarkable. For me, something that only come through a higher power at work for me. I hadn’t played for a year and a half, I had been going through a lot, and to come to my new club, and to score in my first game, in the first fifteen or twenty minutes, it was something really cool. Something really special.
In terms of you being in Columbus, there is some irony there. Your first goal in MLS for the Red Bulls came against the Crew in kind of spectacular fashion.
Yeah, my first goal was the 1000th goal for the club. It was a chip from really deep. Actually, my last goal for the Red Bulls was against Columbus too.
I hadn’t realized that.
I scored my first goal for the club after being so long out. I think it was the 600th goal for the club too, which is really weird. A lot of irony and things going on there. I’m really pleased with where everything is going and really proud to be a part of this group. Now as I’m getting back to being myself, really adding as much as I can.
This weekend of course, you are coming into Red Bull Arena. It’s your first chance to return to the arena. I’m guessing that you’ve been back to the area because you have family there. What is it like coming back to the arena and playing in front of the fans again.
It will be fun. I always loved playing at Red Bull Arena. I’ve had very, very good memories there. We found a lot of success there. It will be fun. It will be interesting, to say the least. I think I will enjoy it. I think it will be a good night. I’ll have a lot of people there watching. A lot of friends and family. It will be good. I’m looking forward to it.
Last night, Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his 100th goal. Just wondering if you watched the match and had any thoughts on it.
I did watch the game. I saw Brad scored very early on. I’ve been on social media and seeing what all the people say about Brad, and it couldn’t be more accurate. The guy is an incredible person, before he is a soccer player, and even a goal scorer. He’s the most humble guy. He comes from an awesome family. I had the pleasure of playing with his brother. I had the pleasure of watching his dad play as I was growing up. They’re just a really good family, really good people. Obviously, he scores the 100th goal, and I hope there is many more to come, just not against us. He’s just a really awesome guy, really awesome friend. He’s someone I’m glad I got to play with.
Last question before I let you go. With how things are progressing in Columbus. Obviously, the season started out very strong, but things have kind of plateaued maybe a little bit. Results have been more difficult to come by. Is that the group still gelling, different teams sort of figuring out the system a little bit, or something else.
If I had the answer to that question, I’d be getting paid a lot of money to be at some of the top clubs in the world. To be honest, I think there are just natural ebbs and flows in the season. This group, I’m incredibly surprised at how hard we work every day. The amount of hours they put in on the field, in the gym, and how meticulous they are with all the details is unbelievable. There are just natural ebbs and flows. We’ve worked hard the entire season.
There times when things don’t stick, and there are times when they do. I think that even in games we lost, we played really well. I think there has only been a couple of games where we haven’t played well. But I think the games where we haven’t gotten a result, we’ve been really unlucky and we’ve played well and dominated the game. I think we have a really good group. I think we have a really special group. But I think we for sure need to keep our heads down.
We need to work. I think it’s important that we continue to listen to the coaching staff, listen to what Gregg says. Because he is very good on the tactical side of the game. So as long as we keep following the right direction, and keep our heads down, keep working hard, I’m pretty excited to see what is going to happen at the end of the season because we have a really good group.
Photo By Bill Twomey Photography