Leeds United: Mike Grella on his World Cup finals dream

The clock is ticking for Mike Grella to find his American way into the national team – and realise a World Cup dream.

The 22-year-old Leeds United striker has largely been a bystander this term while his team-mates have blazed a trail at the top of the League One table, with any hopes of shooting himself into contention for the Stars and Stripes having been placed on the backburner.

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Grella, who has featured for the US at under-20 and under-18 level, was expected to come under the watchful radar of head coach Bob Bradley after a confident pre-season which saw him earn a new three-year deal in August.

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It was just reward for the progress of the New Yorker, with the contract replacing the 18-month one he penned back in February following a successful trial in West Yorkshire.

After a pronounced upward curve, Grella was harbouring hopes of his ascent continuing, while putting serious pressure on first-choice strikers Jermaine Beckford and Luciano Becchio this term and boosting his own international designs in the process.

But he has largely been cooling his heels either in the reserves or on the bench this campaign, with the loan signing of Sam Vokes and Tresor Kandol's return from first-team exile having given him further obstacles to overcome.

Grella was afforded a fillip last Saturday by way of his late FA Cup strike at Oldham, but a minor injury ensured he missed out on figuring for the first team in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie against Grimsby Town in midweek – so it's been a case of one step forward, two steps back at the moment.

And his hopes of booking a spot on the plane to South Africa next summer with his USA colleagues for their fifth successive World Cup finals appearance are increasingly looking slim to remote – barring a miraculous renaissance.

On his World Cup hopes, Grella, a prolific scorer on the college circuit in the US before heading to Leeds, said: "I think it's pretty standard – if you don't play, you're not going to get into the side."

"I've always been part of the international team, the (under) 20s and stuff like that and I've always been very close in with it, but it seems like I'm just out of reach for anything to materialise now because I'm not getting any minutes.

"If you don't play, I don't think you are going to get much of a chance to make the national team."

Grella's strike at Boundary Park was his second of the season, the other coming in the 2-0 league win over Stockport County at Elland Road on September 5 and came on his sixth appearance from the bench, the US frontman having started just five times.

Grella had been hoping for a rare start against the Latics, but Simon Grayson elected to field a 4-3-3 system with Robert Snodgrass and Bradley Johnson supporting Beckford.

But the young marksman is quick to acknowledge that he has plenty of hard work ahead on the training ground at Thorp Arch and candidly admits that he is "way behind schedule" this season.

On his hopes of forging a regular path back to the first team, Grella, who rebuffed interest from Toronto FC and MLS (American Major League Soccer) sides to join up with United, said: "I've just got to keep working hard and do the basics and we'll see where it all pans out.

"I think I'm way behind schedule.

"I think anyone who told you that they were happy where they were is probably not a very good athlete.

"I'm coming on in the team and doing what I can do and controlling what I can control.

"My plan is simple. You can only control what you can control and when you go to training, you've just to work as hard as you can and, when you come on, contribute what you can.

"I think the most important thing is keeping confident, that's all you can really do and that was the plan from the beginning."

While his own World Cup dreams are fading, one Leeds colleague could yet appear in the Stars and Stripes in next summer's World Cup jamboree – though that remains a long shot as well.

The man in question is midfielder Bradley Johnson, with his star having shone brightly this season.

The recent revelation that he qualifies for the US – he is a Londoner, but one of his grandfathers was born in the States – came as a bolt from the blue.

But given his sizzling campaign for United thus far, Johnson could yet gatecrash the World Cup party and earn his international stripes with the US, who are ranked 11th in the FIFA ratings, while being the undisputed number one side in the CONCACAF region.

And even if his own finals hopes are not realised, Grella would be delighted if Johnson's are.

On Johnson's possible US call, Grella said: "Everyone keeps asking me about that!

"If he does qualify to play for the US national team then I'm sure it would be something he dreams of and I hope he does. I'd be very happy if he does."

Felix Wiedwald

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