Minnesota United has candidates in contention for nine MLS awards this postseason.
There’s Ike Opara nominated for MVP and defender of the year, Adrian Heath in the running for coach, Hassani Dotson for rookie, Vito Mannone for goalkeeper, Ethan Finlay in the comeback category and more.
If there was an award for most underrated, Loons midfielder Jan Gregus would receive consideration. ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman and MLSsoccer.com pundits are in this camp.
Gregus had two assists in the MLS Cup playoff-clinching 2-1 win over Kansas City on Wednesday to bring his season total to 11, which ranks tied for eighth in MLS this year. That’s pretty front and center in terms of direct impact on a game.
Besides assists, Gregus’ value as a central midfielder is harder to quantify. Although he is nominated for MLS newcomer of the year, he’s in the middle of the park doing things that can go overlooked.
“Jan has a work ethic that is one of the best in the entire league,” said United sporting director Manny Lagos. “He is technically good with both feet that he creates a tempo that I think it takes time for people to realize and appreciate how hard it is to get that technical with the ball. To make the right pass, to always keep the ball moving, to always have a touch that allows possession to continue for your team and to have a possession toward attack.”
Gregus acted a little confused on the concept of being underrated in an interview Thursday, Sept. 26.
“Money wise?” Gregus said before giving a hearty laugh. He’s well compensated as the Loons’ third-highest paid player with a guaranteed salary of $883,500.
“I don’t care what the others say,” the 28-year-old Slovakian said. “I just try to give my best to my team. … If the others appreciate it or no, doesn’t even matter, I think the team needs to appreciate it like in the results.”
After missing the playoffs for a second straight year, Lagos sought improvement along the team’s spine, from goalkeeper, center back, defensive midfield and central midfield. Gregus was at the top of his list from FC Copenhagen.
Lagos went to Denmark to watch Gregus a few times, the last time in fall 2018 to help spur negotiations and get on the same page with the Slovakian national team Gregus plays on.
“It wasn’t easy,” Lagos said of the transfer. “He plays for a big club in Denmark and one that if they didn’t have the midfield depth they had at that point, I’m not sure that we could have gotten the deal done.”
Lagos credited an existing relationship with Copenhagen. The Loons brought in Bashkim Kadrii on a loan in 2017, and while it was a bust on the field, it helped establish a relationship with the club.
Gregus grew up in Nitra, Slovakia, the son of a coach by the same name and aspirations of playing for big clubs in Europe. There is a collection of home videos from when he was about 4 years old, kicking the ball behind their home.
This is a key reason why Gregus is so talented with both feet. “As far as I could remember, I was kicking the ball,” Gregus said. He came to the U.S. because it was the best transfer opportunity and feels like it was a leap of faith, one he landed on both feet.
Gregus can have an easygoing personality. He has formed close friendships with Romain Metanire and Mannone, his roommate on the road.
Gregus will let loose a distinct laugh often and will give Metanire a hard time whenever. “That is the kind of friendship when you don’t care what you do to him or something like that,” Gregus said. “It’s like family, you will do whatever. If he is getting mad, you don’t care. That is even better.”
Gregus will get fired up, too. In Wednesday’s game against Sporting Kansas City, he felt Felipe Gutierrez poked him in the eye; Gregus was shouting and got in Gutierrez’s face.
“I just needed to spread out some energy to the fans so they wake up,” Gregus said, breaking into a smile.
Gregus loves Mike Tyson and met the former heavyweight boxer during a meet-and-greet in Copenhagen, and Gregus is a big fan of UFC, along with Mannone.
“I think its the most real sport in the world because you can’t fake it,” Gregus said. “You go there to kill or be killed, so that is maybe why so many people like it.
Gregus, who has one goal this season, believes he can be dangerous with long-distance strikes, but it’s been more near-misses than goals.
When he misses, he will uncork a few angry expletives. Are then in Slovakian or English?
“I think I clicked when I come here, I swear in American and when I don’t want anybody to (understand) I swear in Slovakian,” Gregus said with another laugh.