MLSsoccer.com: Grabavoy, Johnson flying under radar, producing for RSL
Their names don't show up on the stat sheet all that often. When teams plan to face Real Salt Lake, their names are near the bottom of the scouting report. In fact, if there were a survey throughout Major League Soccer fans, many wouldn't even know they are on the roster.
But for those in the know, the RSL players, coaches and supporters, Ned Grabavoy and Will Johnson are vital pieces to the diamond midfield used to put the team on top of the MLS table.
"Ned [is a] highly underrated player in our system," said defender Nat Borchers on a radio interview. "Sometimes he's asked to play that underneath position where Javier likes to play. He's so smooth on the ball and so smart going forward. It seems like his relationship with our strikers has gotten even better this year. He is able to find them and put them in dangerous spots."
That was true in RSL's dismantling of Chivas USA on Saturday night as Grabavoy picked up an assist on a throughball to striker Fabián Espíndola. Grabavoy's versatility has been on display many times this season as he has played in each of the four midfield spots.
Speaking of utility, Will Johnson returned to RSL on Friday fresh off his stint with the Canadian national team. Johnson logged 90 minutes in a friendly and two World Cup qualifying matches, and he scored Real's final goal in their 3-0 win over Chivas USA.
But after starting in the midfield, he shifted to the backline.
"Willy is always working," said Borchers of Johnson during his radio interview. "He is a utility guy in terms of where we can put him on the pitch. We had to throw him at outside back when Jámison [Olave] had to leave the game, and he did a fantastic job. He was able to get forward to score the goal at the end. It's fantastic to see those guys get the credit the deserve."
It may be going too far to call Grabavoy and Johnson unsung heroes, because everyone associated with the team knows what they contribute. But while players such as Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando get deserved recognition because of national team call-ups, the pair have been, and were especially Saturday night, important pieces going forward in what RSL hope will be a Supporters' Shield- and championship-winning season.