The last name was suddenly pluralized last spring - not officially, not at a county courthouse - when Grabavoy sprinted onto the field as a substitute in the 46th minute of RSL’s home opener against the Colorado Rapids a year ago with an extra letter. Major League Soccer wasn’t happy about it, but the Chicago-area native wanted it added.
It was for James and it was for Charlotte and it was for Monica. “Grabavoys” signified family. It signified the Grabavoy family. In January, Monica and Ned welcomed premature twins, James and Charlotte. Ned watched his infant son, weighing in at about four pounds, breathe in a glass case after complications following delivery. Weeks later, Charlotte contracted RSV, a dangerous respiratory virus that infects lungs and breathing airways of infant children. Grabavoy was in San Jose, Calif., the night before RSL’s season opener against the Earthquakes. His wife called and said something was wrong with Charlotte.
Grabavoy flew back to Salt Lake City and “was living” at Primary Children’s Hospital for a week with Charlotte. He didn’t train. Soccer, the thing he initially fell in love with, couldn’t be further away. While his young daughter recovered, Grabavoy’s mind raced. He kept thinking how James would eventually pick up the RSV infection.
So when Grabavoy decided to lace up his cleats and get back to the training field, his phone rang. It was his mother-in-law, in town to help. James was sick. It was RSV. Grabavoy took the 9000 South exit and swerved to get back on I-15 Northbound to speed right back to Primary Children’s.
“I just felt like something wasn’t right,” Grabavoy said. “We took James to the hospital and basically (the doctors) said his whole body was shutting down at six weeks old. I just sat there and didn’t know what to think.”
Again, he watched as his infant son breathed with the aid of a machine.
LIFE AND ITS CURVEBALLS
Grabavoy is here because of a curveball. As a youth baseball player growing up southwest of Chicago, he saw something he’d never seen before, swung away, and connected with air. It was then that one of Major League Soccer’s fiery, competitive players decided that a bat and a mitt weren’t needed. He stuck with cleats and a ball and a goal.
Shaped as a player in the prominent Chicago Magic youth soccer program, Grabavoy developed into a star in the 1990s. He was a mainstay in national youth programs, starting with the U-14 U.S. team and staying in the program until the U-20s. The Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2000, Grabavoy spent time overseas as a trialist with famed European clubs such as Bayern Munich and AS Monaco, and eventually won a national title at the University of Indiana in 2003.
He passed on the opportunity to sign with Monaco and German Bundesliga club Stuttgart, opting to play soccer stateside.
“I was an American kid,” Grabavoy said. “I wanted to go to college and experience college. I think what’s difficult for people to understand now, because of the young guys will say, ‘You could have signed where?’ I try to explain to them that the landscape of American soccer 10 years ago was completely different. You could maybe name a few players that played overseas that were American.”
But the start to his MLS career, however successful early on, was rocky. He won an MLS Cup with the L.A. Galaxy in 2005 after struggling to figure out new coaching staffs and front offices. He was traded to Columbus in 2006 and reunited with Sigi Schmid, who drafted him in L.A. After two years with the Crew, Grabavoy’s first MLS contract expired, and he asked the club to leave him unprotected in the Expansion Draft, knowing he’d be chosen by the San Jose Earthquakes.
Grabavoy’s suddenly-journeyman road continued. He started 21 of 24 matches for San Jose in 2008, but entering the 2009 season, he was called in by the front office. The Earthquakes decided to waive Grabavoy at 25.
RSL came calling.