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2013 Player Profiles (#6): Ned Grabavoy increases impact through fitness, veteran leadership

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ned Grabavoy was never the most spectacular player at Real Salt Lake, but he was a reliable midfielder effective in defense and attack, but not particularly a standout at either. He wasn't a massively different player in 2014, but his effectiveness on both sides of the ball increased significantly  In fact, it was by far his most productive season at Real Salt Lake, and for that matter, his most productive season in the league.

Having been in MLS since 2004, Grabavoy was never a player that divided opinion sharply, but until he reached RSL, he was perhaps undervalued. Even in his early years here, he was more a connective player than anything, and he typically missed a handful of weeks during the season with injury.

For the first time since he arrived, he didn't find himself falling to significant injury; this is down to than his fitness (perhaps there's a slight element of luck involved) and desire to be a more complete player. But his impact was about more than just that: Our style of play shifted between 2012 and 2013 in fairly substantial ways, and it was a shift that benefited a fully fit Grabavoy significantly.

Always a fine player to connect the far ends of the midfield - a vital piece between Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales - with his accurate passing and a willingness to keep things simple much to his benefit, Grabavoy excelled in a system that called for more attack from the midfield. His runs, obviously aided by his increased fitness, saw him in better goalscoring positions. When he was handed the opportunities in a strong summer for the club, he excelled. His calm finishing was pinpoint, and his movement through the middle of the park was creative enough to result in a boost to positive results.

Five goals and five assists - a net direct impact of ten goals - is nothing to shake your head at. Through the regular season, that puts him in the top five for goals created with 10 (Javier Morales unsurprisingly leads the pack with 18).

Grabavoy, of course, didn't have a perfect season, and it ended in a particularly painful way. He was one of four players to miss a penalty for Real Salt Lake during the MLS Cup Final, and while that may be partly down to the conditions, it's still a shame for a player who had a very strong season.

But moving forward, Grabavoy is again a very important veteran player at Real Salt Lake. He is as close to the small core of players at the club as ever - perhaps he is just outside the five most important players. He's become a model professional, he's healthy, and he's more fit than ever.

With 2014 approaching and very few changes on the cards, Grabavoy will be vital to our efforts to reach similar heights as 2013. He'll need to be a leader on the team more than he's ever had to be, and he'll need to continue to influence the young players ready to make a step up. There is every reason to think he's ready to do this.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2013 season and previewing the 2014 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.