In their 21-year history, the New York Red Bulls — known as the MetroStars from 1996 to 2005 — have accomplished so much as a soccer club. They have one of the most beautiful and state-of-the-art stadiums in New York/New Jersey area, they have won the Supporters Shield in 2013 and 2015, and they have had outstanding stars such as Roberto Donadoni, Thierry Henry and Tab Ramos on their roster. But have never won the MLS CUP. This year, with their local star and playmaker Mike Grella, the team is primed to make a huge run in the Eastern Conference, having closed the season with Number 1 seed in the East and earned home field advantage for the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Being Raised on Long Island but playing for the New York Red Bulls, how is the experience playing in front of your family, friends and the individuals that have seen you take exceptional strides to being one of the premier playmakers in MLS?
MG: It’s been a real honor and source of great pride to play for your hometown team. I’m a New Yorker and representing the Red Bulls is and has been an amazing experience. My family and friends spent so many years tracking me in Europe, and so this is an awesome treat for them. My wife, kids, parents, and especially my brother have invested so much in to me and my career so to be able to play in front of them is a dream come true.
The Red Bulls finished at number 1 in the Eastern Conference and have been awarded home field advantage throughout the playoffs other than possibly the final. The Red Bulls are searching for their first MLS Cup. How important is home field advantage in MLS?
MG: Home field advantage is massively important. We are very good at home and the record each year since reflects that. On the other hand, the teams in this league are playing at such a high level that we must be aware and ready for any challenge home or away.
The MLS has grown significantly, as represented by TV ratings, stadium attendance and more cities looking to potentially call MLS home. Do you believe the MLS has the capabilities of being on par with perhaps the La Liga or Premier League of the world?
MG: I’m a big believer in the MLS and its potential. I think it can become one of the best leagues in the world, without a question. The infrastructure is there, the youth, the way it’s run…Everything is in place for it to get better and better.
Since the inaugural season in 2015, it seems that the NYCFC versus Red Bulls rivalry has taken off significantly. The crowds have been sold out, the atmosphere is that of Europe, and there is the possibility that you both may meet in the conference final. How is it playing in the Hudson River Derby? I can only imagine the atmosphere in those two potential playoffs games are to be simply electric.
MG: Electric is a good way to describe it. Again, being from New York and being part of this rivalry is special from every perspective. As a player, there’s a huge sense of pride being from NY and playing in this derby. The atmosphere of these games have been fantastic and remind me of when I was back at Leeds. Like I said, the MLS is growing rapidly and this rivalry has only increased that growth up.
Any such Downtown New York spots that you frequently visit and attend with fellow teammates?
MG: We get together mostly in the city. We have had dinners in some of the awesome restaurants the Meatpacking District has to offer. Another awesome thing about Downtown is that it’s only a short path ride to Red Bull Arena.