MLS • Hard-working veteran says he never believes he has a guaranteed spot on the team.
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Sandy • Ned Grabavoy is unheralded outside the confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.
His Real Salt Lake teammate Kyle Beckerman deservedly draws most of the attention.
Yet Grabavoy's coach understands value.
"He's probably the biggest unsung hero on our team, and probably the most underrated player on our team," RSL coach Jason Kreis said about Grabavoy. "He's critically important to how we play.
"His performance this year has been second to none."
Then why is Grabavoy overlooked when top midfields in Major League Soccer are discussed?
He is undersized at 5-foot-7. And RSL, which is preparing for D.C. United to visit on Saturday, is Grabavoy's fourth team since entering the league with the L.A. Galaxy as the 14th overall pick.
Grabavoy has been associated with winning soccer since his days with NCAA champion Indiana. He has two MLS Cup rings, including one with the Galaxy. He scored the winning penalty kick at the Chicago Fire to give RSL its first conference championship en route to its MLS Cup title in 2009.
"It takes a different sort of eye to appreciate all of the things Ned does for us," Kreis said.
Grabavoy's fitness, smarts and toughness can't be measured by tangible things, such as goals. His header off the line during a corner kick in the 54th minute helped save RSL's 0-0 tie Friday at Philadelphia.
And the 29-year-old native of Joliet, Ill., continues to get better.
"For me, it's kind of the same every year I come in never considering myself to have a guaranteed spot," Grabavoy said. "Every week I come into training with the mindset of getting better but also proving to coaching staff and teammates that I need to be on the field when I'm healthy."
He is the midfielder who plays on the outside of RSL's diamond attack, regardless of the opponents' formation, and his responsibilities are varied. He often is stretched from 18-yard box to 18-yard box.
"Whoever plays on the outside of the diamond always has to be aware and really has to have a partnership with the outside back," Grabavoy said. "Get on the ball and help calm things down ... and help out on the attack when I can."
Grabavoy played three years for Los Angeles before being traded to Columbus. He was selected by the San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS Expansion Draft after two seasons with the Crew, including a 2007 campaign where he logged more than 2,000 minutes.
San Jose finished seventh in 2008, and Grabavoy, who admittedly was a poor fit there, was waived once more. But RSL grabbed him the same day, and he spent much of 2009 as a second choice to Andy Williams.
"I had to fight that whole first year for every single minute I got," Grabavoy said. "And maybe didn't get as many minutes as I deserved. But I kept fighting. Kept working because I really did believe in what [RSL] was trying to do.
"It was a bit of a wake-up call. It took me a good year to prove to this coaching staff how good I was and how important I could be for the team."
Grabavoy made his point. His contract has been extended through 2014.
"He has the potential and capability to be one of the best midfielders in the league," Kreis said. "He just won't be talked about."
D.C. United at RSL
P At Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy)
Kickoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • CW30
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 102.3 FM
Records • DCU 12-9-5, RSL 13-10-4
All-time series • Tied 5-5-4
Last meeting • DCU, 4-1 (Sept. 24, 2011)
About United • D.C. has never defeated RSL at Rio Tinto. … Five of United's final eight games are on the road. … Forward Dwayne De Rosario is the seventh player in MLS history to score 100 goals.
About RSL • Defender Jamison Olave trained fully the past three days, while defender Chris Schuler appears recovered from a foot injury. Kenny Mansally injured his knee and is at least two weeks away from full fitness.