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.
"I get asked a lot if I want to play in Chicago but I try not getting hung up on it," he said. "But when I come back through to play, to have all the people I'm close to get together (in the stands) is special."
Minnesota Twins minor league outfielder Erik Lis (Richards) is enjoying a solid season playing for the Double A New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats. Following Sunday's doubleheader sweep of the Manchester (N.H.) Fisher Cats, Lis is hitting .286 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs in 73 games. His sixth-inning two-run blast in Sunday's 3-2 victory in the nightcap was the game-winner.
This is Lis' fourth season of minor league ball and New Britain is the fourth team he's played for since the Twins selected him in the ninth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
His first minor league stop was for the Twins' Rookie League squad in Elizabethton (Tenn.), where he hit .407 with four homers and 21 RBIs in less than half a season. He was named the Twins' Player of the Month for July 2005.
He excelled in his first Single A stop the next season, playing for the Beloit Snappers. While there, he led the Twins' organization and the Midwest League in batting and topped the league in on-base percentage (.402) and slugging (.547), was second in doubles (37), fourth in extra-base hits (56) and tied for fifth in home runs (16) despite missing time late in the campaign with a broken bone in his right hand.
Lis was promoted to the advanced Single A Fort Myers Miracle in 2007, where he hit .274 with 18 home runs, 97 RBIs and 34 doubles. He was named the Florida State League Player of the Week in consecutive weeks in August and was named a postseason All-Star for the second straight year.
Lis entered pro ball after three college seasons at Evansville, where he left as the only player to rank (at the time) on the program's career top 10 lists in batting average (3rd-.353), home runs (6th-25), doubles (8th-49) and RBIs (8th-147). During his junior year, Lis hit .322 and led the Missouri Valley Conference with 12 home runs and 60 RBIs and was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection.
Among those named to the Arena League All-Rookie Team last Tuesday was New York Dragons defensive lineman Farouk Adelekan (Thornton). He ended his first regular season in the Arena League with 30 tackles, four sacks, nine quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one pass defended and forced fumble apiece.
His presence on the line of scrimmage also helped the Dragons field the league's top unit in total yards (270.1) and passing yards (249.8) allowed per game. In the Dragons' 77-63 wild card road upset over Dallas Friday night, Adelekan contributed two tackles.
Adelekan came to the Dragons in 2008 from Arena League2, where he had 19½ tackles, nine tackles for loss, eight sacks and forced five fumbles for the Tennessee Valley Vipers in 2007.
His college career consisted of two-year stops at the College of DuPage and the University of Houston. At Houston, the 6-foot-2-inch, 275-pounder had 73 tackles and 11 sacks in 17 games; he had 23½ sacks and blocked five field goals in his tenure at DuPage.
In women's golf, two players with Chicago-area ties placed in the Horseshoe Casino Classic over the weekend at Lost Marsh Golf Course in Hammond, Ind. The event is part of the Duramed FUTURES Tour, which is the official development tour of the LPGA.
The top local finisher was Jenna Pearson (Wheaton Warrenville South), who ended the three-round event tied for 35th at 228 (+12). She was consistent throughout the three rounds, making the cut after shooting 76-77 on Friday and Saturday and finishing with a 75 on Sunday.
Pearson played four years of college golf at the University of South Carolina, finishing her eligibility in 2007. Among her highlights while in Columbia were top ten finishes at her last two SEC Championships -- a tie for seventh as a junior in 2006 and a tie for fifth as a senior. Pearson also won the 2006 Women's Illinois Open Championship.
Also placing was Jessica Schneider (Larkin), who came in three strokes behind Pearson at 231 (+15), which tied her for 57th place. Her play was also steady throughout the three days in Hammond, as she fired a 77-76-78.
Schneider played her college golf at DePauw, where she was a two-time first-team Division III All-American (in 2003-04). During her time at DePauw, she won eight tournaments. Schneider has been playing on the Duramed FUTURES Tour since 2005 and has made the cut in her last three tournaments.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times