Portland Timbers midfielder Ned Grabavoy announced on Tuesday afternoon that he will retire at the end of the Timbers' 2016 season.
Grabavoy will leave professional soccer alongside Timbers legend Jack Jewsbury, who played his final home game last Sunday — and though Grabavoy's place in club history doesn't compare with Jewsbury's, his place in MLS history is similarly secure. It's only a shame that we in Portland got to see so little of him.
This has been a difficult season for Grabavoy. The midfielder has started just five games, playing, depending on how he's used against Vancouver on Sunday, his fewest minutes ever in an MLS season. Grabavoy has also been held without a goal or an assist this year, something that has only happened once before in his thirteen-year career in the league.
Somewhat unlike Jack Jewsbury, who is still a vitally important part of this Timbers team, Grabavoy could see the writing on the wall. It was time to walk away.
Grabavoy played for six teams throughout his career, but he found a home with Real Salt Lake from 2009 to 2014, where he served as an integral part of Jason Kreis' vaunted midfield diamond. Grabavoy won MLS Cup 2009 with RSL, the second such triumph of his career. He also won the Cup with LA in 2005.
Jewsbury has been heralded in the month since he announced his retirement for making the very most of his talent. Grabavoy is equally deserving of that acclaim.
At 5'7 and without the pace that is normally associated with similarly small attackers, Grabavoy had no business making more than 300 MLS appearances. But Grabavoy was in equal parts a tenacious and adroit player, who carved out a place in the league for thirteen years.
2015 was an extremely trying year for Grabavoy, who followed Jason Kreis to NYCFC and became a lightning rod as Kreis handed him starts over the likes of Kwadwo Poku, and by the time Grabavoy came to Portland this winter — where he reunited with his college assistant coach Caleb Porter — he was past his best.
But we still saw glimpses of what made Grabavoy one of the most underrated MLS players of the last decade. His performance against San Jose at Providence Park at the beginning of June — a ferocious, guileful display that played as big a part in any in willing the ten-men Timbers to a 1-0 win — was sensational.
Grabavoy started that game, Porter would say afterwards, because of his vigor that week in training — even after he played just eight minutes during the entire month May. It said plenty about the work ethic and professionalism of a player who easily could have thrown in the towel on this season.
At the very least this year, Grabavoy was dependable. Never injured, never gave the ball away, and always played like it mattered.
Grabavoy arrived at his decision to retire around the same time as Jewsbury arrived at his, but waited to announce his plans until after the Timbers' final home game of the season.
It was a classy and gracious move. Had Grabavoy bowed out in Claret and Cobalt, he surely wouldn't have gotten away without saying goodbye to the home fans.
Grabavoy still has some work to do. With Diego Chara and Ben Zemanski out on Sunday, and Jack Jewsbury likely out tonight, Grabavoy could play a crucial role in both of the Timbers' big games this week. But when the season does end, Grabavoy will walk away with a career any player would be proud of.