As a 22 year-old midfielder in the middle of his second season as a professional soccer player for the Columbus Crew, Cole Grossman knew that things weren’t working out for him, and were unlikely to change for the better. At that point, he made a decision that took a lot of confidence for someone yet unproven in the league. He asked to be let go.

“I just felt like in Columbus I was never really going to be given an opportunity,” Grossman told Keepin’ It Real. “So, I asked to be released. I’d say three-quarters of the way through the season last year, they were aware of my desire to go somewhere else. I feel really thankful that they did end up letting me go. It just really wasn’t a place where I felt I’d be able to get better and thrive.”

Upon being picked up by Real Salt Lake after his release in the offseason, the Duke alum might not have fully understood what lay ahead for him. The RSL midfield is unique for a player at Grossman’s position.

“There are actually a lot of differences,” said Grossman of his role at RSL compared to those he has been asked to play previously. “The outside of the diamond is a position that I think is pretty unique to MLS and even really international soccer.”

“A truly tucked in outside midfielder is a cool position but to be honest it’s something that asks a lot of players to do things that I’ve never done before. It’s really hard, but I’m excited about the challenge, and I’m learning new things. But there really are a lot of demands of the position that being a central midfielder my whole life I’ve never done before. That part is challenging when you’ve done a lot of similar things in the middle of the field your whole life, and you’re asked to learn a new skillset.”

The RSL “diamond” midfield scheme requires its “wide” midfielders to tuck in centrally, with a lot of tight passing and interplay amongst the midfield, and then stretch wide and retreat defensively to cover the opposing wide attackers.

“That’s a big part of it – as a central midfielder I’ve basically never defended wide positions regularly in my whole career. It’s just something that center midfielders rarely have to do – defend guys along the touchline and in wide positions, places where they can get crosses off in behind the line. The little details of that I’ve just never done before. I just don’t have much experience with that. So that’s definitely an adjustment.”

What makes that all the more challenging is the fact that many teams across MLS put some of their more talented attacking players out in those wide positions, the very position that Grossman and his complement on the other side of the field are asked to cover.

“In this league there are a lot of talented players, particularly in those wide positions and guys drift out there, so it’s hard. It’s something that I’m going to have to learn quickly and get better at if I really want to master this system.”

And to add to the story, Coach Jason Kreis wants his central midfielders to always be moving, always repositioning, and always hustling – something that predecessor Will Johnson did extremely well.

“The amount of ground that you cover in the center of midfield is a lot, but a lot of it happens at almost a slower tempo – a lot of tactical movements – a lot of slower movements along the ground, side-to-side and up-and-back. There isn’t much of a sprinting over long distance component. There is, of course, particularly if you want to score goals. But in this system, there are a lot of long, long runs. At least that’s what I’ve experienced so far. That’s something that’s different for me playing center midfield, as well.”

Grossman is still getting acclimated with his new squad. Can he make the transition, and capitalize on the opportunity that he was seeking? Only time will tell. For now, best of luck to Cole.

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