For the veteran winger himself, scoring in his first shift in Columbus was proof he could still compete at the MLS level, and a major step toward quieting the doubts that have cropped up even in Grella's own mind.
Grella hadn’t played in an MLS game since June of 2017, and revealed he hasn’t been healthy since November of 2016. The technically skilled winger had knee surgery last year to repair a damaged piece of ligament in his left knee, and had been rehabbing in Columbus until this spring.
After the first major injury of his career, he even wondered if he would make it back onto the field.
“I swear, in the back of my mind, I thought, ‘Maybe I can get a goal,’” he said after the game. “I thought, ‘I’ll play well; I’ll do what I can.’ But I knew as soon as I crossed the line after such a long injury…I had already accomplished something really big. So I felt like, ‘Why not just try to get something else, get a goal or something?’ It was a dream come true.”
Grella was lauded by his coaches and teammates for his performance. Head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter said he couldn’t be happier for his winger.
“This is why I’m proud to be in this business; to see the struggle, and then see the triumph when a guy comes back and is able to make an impact like that,” Berhalter said. “So, for Mike, the whole group is extremely proud of him, and I think it’s a testament to him as a person and as an athlete that he’s been out this long and comes back and can make that type of impact.”
Even though Grella said he believes he’s taken a “huge step in the right direction,” he doesn’t want to push himself too much.
But in Columbus, he said he’s “with a team that actually plays really good football” for the first time in his career, and said fitting in is coming “really easy” to him.
The next step, Grella said, is getting past that cautious stage to where his goal can be “to give as much as I can to this team and stop worrying about myself and my own health.”
He thinks he’s on his way.
“I learned a lot about myself and my character,” he said. “I’m really happy I came out the other side.”