Ned Grabavoy has become one of Real Salt Lake's most important players, and the transition has been a fascinating one to watch. He's gone from playing an important connective role but not overly impressing to being one of the most important players in this 2013 campaign.
Key to this has been his work on fitness, which he was keen to point out during early season as a focus moving forward. Consider that, with 10 matches remaining in the season, he's just over two full matches away from spending more time on the pitch than in any other season; with one full match, he'll surpass his best season - last year, in fact - as a Real Salt Lake player.
The persistent injuries that stunted his playing time have faded away; this season, Grabavoy has missed two matches, owing to the birth of his children at the beginning of the season, and has been a substitute twice. Every other match has been a start, and in only one was he substituted: May 4 in a 2-0 win over Vancouver Whitecaps.
Looking at Grabavoy's statistics is enlightening and allows us a different perspective on the player's fine performances. Let's take a specific look at the final 15 minutes of matches.
Grabavoy's late-match passing percentage is essentially in line with Kyle Beckerman at 85 percent, although Beckerman's passes average 18 meters and Grabavoy's 14. This isn't a point of criticism but certainly something worth noting: Passing accuracy, in part, depends on the difficulty of passes attempted.
Interestingly, Grabavoy leads the team in fouls committed in the final 15 minutes - 10 - but has played quite a bit more in that time range than those near him: Alvaro Saborio has committed 7, Olmes Garcia 6, Abdoulie Mansally 6. It's clearly not a clear indication of fouling tendencies, as we'd really have to break it out by minutes played (in that final 15 minute time range) to make anything approaching a definitive claim.
Moving back to full matches, Grabavoy currently sits second in key passes, with 33 to Javier Morales's 63. This is significantly more than his closest teammate, Tony Beltran, who is sitting at a remarkable 18 - he truly is an attacking full back, isn't he? But that's a side note at best. This is about Ned Grabavoy and his impact on Real Salt Lake's success this season.
By having a midfielder playing from deeper positions who is capable of both connecting play and creative play, we're given greater opportunities to win matches. When you add in Grabavoy's runs from deep at vital times - well, let's just say he's an important part of what makes the system tick over. We can talk all day about Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales in the midfield, and certainly their contributions are as valuable as we all claim.
But Ned Grabavoy ranks with them in importance: His short passing fills the gap between Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman while providing an outlet in the midfield for a fullback. His understanding perhaps hasn't changed much, but his ability to make good on that understanding has greatly improved alongside his fitness. His five goals this season are surely a testament to that.
Let's just end this with a goal, yeah? Yeah. This was a nice one.
(Source: Squawka http://www.squawka.com/players/ned-grabavoy)