Former Duke standout and current Leeds United reserve Mike Grella is on the cusp of life in the Coca Cola Championship, England's second rung of soccer competition, just below the Barclay's Premier League.
Leeds United, with Grella on the bench as an available substitute, pulled out a 2-0 win against League One minnows Southend United this past weekend at Elland Road, Leeds' home ground. The three points push Leeds to third in the standings, just a point behind second place—and automatic promotion—with five games remaining. If Leeds, on 77 points, can overtake Millwall, on 78, the club would earn a spot in the Championship league next season, and would continue its remarkable return from the grave of English soccer. Just nine years ago, when Grella was 14, Leeds United was competing in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League—the holy grail of club soccer—before an ownership meltdown pulled the rug out from under the club financially, sending Leeds crashing into the third tier in England.
Grella, after a successful trial period with the north England club, signed a contract in January 2009 and hasn't looked back. He has made 22 appearances with the first-team in the 09-10 campaign, and has scored four goals—three of which came in Leeds' shock run to the fourth round of the FA Cup. While Grella still has not proven to be a consistent choice for manager Simon Grayson, he appears to have distinguished himself in training, and is a usual pick as an available substitute. Grella has to play behind perhaps League One's best striker in Jermaine Beckford, who has 26 goals on the season in all competitions.
Leeds' final five will prove a difficult stretch, with three road journeys to Carlisle United, Gillingham and not too-far removed Premiership-side Charlton before the year ending May 8 showdown at Elland Road with Bristol Rovers.