Sandy • Garth Lagerwey picked up the phone to dial his youth soccer coach. He’d just seen a name on the waiver wire and knew Mike Matkovich had some insight into midfielder Ned Grabavoy.
Turns out Matkovich coached both Lagerwey and Grabavoy, two Chicago-area guys, and the popular Chicago coach told Lagerwey, Real Salt Lake’s general manager, to immediately sign the recently waived midfielder.
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Grabavoy had been released by the San Jose Earthquakes in March 2009, and Lagerwey and RSL coach Jason Kreis watched tape of Grabavoy and saw a fit.
Turns out, Lagerwey was right to phone his old coach.
"He’s literally cut from the cloth," Lagerwey said. "He’s the perfect guy — a two-sided guy in our system. It just works. There’s nothing that’s going to derail him from his goal."
Which is to find his way to impact the game.
Grabavoy is in the tail end of one of his best seasons as a pro four-and-a-half years after landing in Utah. At age 30, nine years after being drafted by the L.A. Galaxy and helping them win an MLS Cup as a rookie, Grabavoy is RSL’s quiet-yet-consistent star.
"Ned’s been under-appreciated league-wide for a while, and he’s had a bunch of great years," defender Chris Wingert said. "Unbelievable production from him this year."
Grabavoy, who plays on the outside of RSL’s patented diamond-midfield formation, took it upon himself last offseason to get more involved in the attack.
Lagerwey brought in more speed up top with forwards Joao Plata, Robbie Findley and Olmes Garcia joining the fold.
"We got faster forwards to open up the space for guys like Ned and Luis Gil on the outside," Lagerwey said. "Our message to the midfielders was, ‘If you do the work, the space will be there now.’"
Playing in 32 of 34 regular-season matches, Grabavoy has a career-high five goals this season to go with five assists, and has been instrumental in the RSL offense.
"Ned is unbelievable with the ball and his ability to set up defenders," RSL assistant Miles Joseph said.
Grabavoy said in previous years he was sometimes the fifth or sixth player crashing into the box on attacks or counter-attacks, but this year he’s now the second or third.
"I think a little bit of it was I needed to take more responsibility and grasp the game individually," Grabavoy said. "I think that I’ve gotten better as a pro on and off the field in learning the game every single year."
Grabavoy, who is in his fifth year with RSL, has become one of several important pieces. After helping RSL win an MLS Cup in 2009 — he delivered the winning penalty attempt against Chicago to give RSL its berth in the final — Grabavoy said he feels better now than he ever has as a pro.
"Even though I’m 30, I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my career, and I look to keep playing well and to keep getting better at all those things," he said.
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