Minnesota United veteran Jan Gregus speaks Slovak and English, but something gets lost in the translation when the word “comfortable” comes up in conversation.
There’s comfortable as in secure and assured — and then there’s comfortable as in content and satisfied.
“It can be tricky,” he said.
He bristles when he is asked how much more comfortable he feels in his second preseason with the Loons than he did a year ago with a new team in a new league. He also acknowledges he is a different, more assertive central midfielder with that first season now behind him.
“It feels, not so different, but like different in the way that I’ve been with the team now for a longer time and I’m not the new player,” he said. “I don’t have to get to know the players again from the beginning. That is the only difference.”
United coach Adrian Heath sees an improved player a year after the team made him its third and final designated player at the time in a transfer from FC Copenhagen in Denmark’s top division.
Heath sees a 29-year-old who is not only physically stronger after he expanded his martial arts training over the summer, but also more expressive verbally. Gregus might have seemed quiet and reserved when he was signed just before Christmas 2018, but no more.
“Believe me, he’s not quiet,” United veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said.
Now just call him “Mr. Hollywood,” as Gregus playfully called himself when he returned last month from an MLS function in Los Angeles, where the big NBA fan also had a chance to watch LeBron James play at Staples Center.
“He’s more vocal, more demanding of his teammates,” Heath said. “That comes with time. He’s feeling confident with the group and knows which buttons to press with certain players. We’ve got really good leadership now. The one thing about Jan is he’s a fantastic professional, as good as I’ve ever worked with.
“Every day, he comes in and works hard, works on his body, works on the things he needs to improve. I’m expecting big things from Jan this year.”
Heath expects Gregus, who tied for seventh in MLS in assists with 12 last season, to score more goals. He has a booming shot with either foot, if he can find the net.
Heath also expects him to lead. Gregus has made his voice heard during a preseason that ends with the regular-season opener Sunday at Portland.
“Now I’m in my spot and know the team and the players well, better than before,” he said. “It comes naturally to me. I just want to win so bad, and I will make sure everyone wants the same as me.”
Gregus looks leaner than a year ago — “I’m either the same or maybe a little more strong,” he said — after he trained back home last summer with a friends, one a boxer and another a martial arts fighter.
Gregus is a big fight fan who trained with them in addition to his United training program. He doesn’t miss watching a big fight, such as the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder bout Saturday.
“I’ve always had this passion for martial arts,” he said. “I like the respect and hard work they put in. They almost kill each other, and then they shake their hands like they’re best friends. ... I trained like this every now and then. This year was more intense because I had more time to do it. But it was very tough, to be honest.”
Could it be so because it’s out of his comfort zone?
“Comfort is never good,” he said. “We can’t be comfortable. You need some kind of challenges in your life to get better. You always have to move forward. We’re trying to make ourselves uncomfortable now so we can feel comfortable during the season.”
It is tricky.