Keeping up with ... Lincoln-Way's Ned Grabavoy
Many of America's top soccer players end up competing in Europe, lured by both big money and rabid fan bases.

But when New Lenox native Ned Grabavoy decided to turn pro in 2003 after three seasons at Indiana, he saw no reason to dust off his passport.

"I tossed around the idea of playing over there (in Europe) but the MLS is a good league and it was more of a lifestyle decision," said Grabavoy, a Lincoln-Way graduate now in his first season with the expansion San Jose Earthquakes after splitting his first four years between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Columbus Crew.

"You look at a lot of the players that go over there -- a lot of them aren't happy and end up coming back the next year."

That being said, Grabavoy admits the idea of crossing the pond has crossed his mind.

"Sometimes you can't help but wonder how your career would have been different," he said. "But soccer's a bit different over there -- it's pretty cutthroat."

Though Grabavoy won't turn 25 until Tuesday, he's a seasoned veteran who's been exposed to the business side of the game here as well. After 2½ solid campaigns with the Express, he was traded in 2006 to the Crew, where he enjoyed his best season in 2007.

After starting 25 games and scoring two goals over his first three seasons combined, the midfielder's game went to another level in 2007 as he set career-highs with 24 starts and three goals.

What did that mean when the off-season came? A new address.

Grabavoy's contract was up, and he was offered in the expansion allocation that stocked the San Jose roster. Like most first-year teams, the Earthquakes haven't had much success.

After Saturday's at Toyota Park, they remain in last place in the Western Conference standings with a 3-8-3 record. The chief trouble area has been an anemic offense that has produced a league-low 10 goals.

"We really have been struggling to score and when you have an entirely new team, there isn't that familiarity," said Grabavoy. "So we've been trying to get used to playing with each other, but it's been tough."

Grabavoy has yet to play for an MLS champion but his first two Express teams at least finished with winning records. He was a part of sub-.500 campaigns in each of the past two seasons but not to the level he's currently experiencing.

"It'a really tough in this league -- there's such a small separation between teams at the top and bottom of the standings," he said. "The hard thing with being an expansion team is building depth. We definitely have some good players, though, and I feel like we're on the way to breaking out of the losing mold."

Prior to turning pro, losing wasn't something Grabavoy experienced much of. He left college after helping Indiana win the 2003 national championship. He was a co-captain on that squad and led the Hoosiers in scoring in 2003 with 10 goals and 11 assists in 25 games. That helped earn Grabavoy consensus first-team All-American honors. He also was Hermann Award semifinalist before leaving Bloomington with 57 career points on 18 goals and 21 assists.

His prep career was just as prolific individually, although his last two Lincoln-Way teams fell one win short of a state crown, losing in the Class AA state finals to East Moline in 1999 and Edwardsville in 2000.

His decision to play for Lincoln-Way was one of many he's had to make during his career. Many top youth players like Grabavoy elect to bypass playing for their high school and opt for club soccer, where they can play more games against higher caliber competition. Grabavoy knows he made the right choice.

"I look back at playing in high school and love that I got to play with some of my best friends," said Grabavoy. "I had a similar decision whether to play in college (over opting for Europe a first time) but I don't regret a thing."

Despite having trained and played with national teams overseas and now residing in his third American city, Grabavoy will always call Chicago home. He'll marry his longtime girlfriend, Monica Ferro, also a Lincoln-Way graduate, in the Windy City in December and there's always the chance that his soccer path could lead back to the Midwest.