At his postgame press conference shortly after his team clinched the first-ever Concacaf Champions League trophy for an MLS club with a 3-0 second-leg triumph over Pumas UNAM at Lumen Field on Wednesday, Seattle Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer made sure to highlight a pivotal sequence in the match that led to Seattle’s back-breaking second goal.
The catalyst was free-agent offseason arrival Albert Rusnák, who got the ball deep in his own end, only to find himself surrounded by three Pumas defenders crashing towards him to try and win back possession in a favorable area. Instead, the 27-year-old Slovakian coolly weaved his way out of pressure, found teammate Cristian Roldan in space to his right, at which point the counter-attack was off to the races.
“When you guys watch that, I just watched it in the locker room, Albert Rusnák had a really good moment of composure,” Schmetzer explained. “He had three guys around him, he’s dribbling one way, had three guys in front of him, stopped, turned, connected Cristian, Alex [Roldan] and then Alex laid the ball into Jordan [Morris].
“Albert’s composure in that moment is exactly what we needed,” he continued. “Because Pumas came out in the second half, it was 1-0 and Stef [Frei] made that save, they were on top of us. And we couldn’t get a hold of the ball. On the bench we were like, ‘Well, what can we do? Can we make subs, no we can’t make subs, how are we going to get that little bit of composure that we need?’ And Albert delivered in that moment. So, credit to him for starting that sequence for that second goal.”
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It wasn’t just that play. In a maximum-pressure, all-or-nothing match with continental glory on the line, the Sounders were dealt a major blow when MVP finalist midfielder João Paulo was forced from the action in the first half with an injury.
With 16-year-old Obed Vargas coming on as his replacement, the circumstances necessitated that Rusnák step up in the midfield in the absence of one of the team’s most influential players. He did exactly that, putting in a Man of the Match-caliber performance while ultimately playing a key role in the sequences that led up to all three goals.
“These type of games, everybody’s hyped up, everybody has the fire in them and you just need a little bit of cool and calmness inside your head,” Rusnák told MLSsoccer.com’s David Gass in an on-field interview following the final whistle. “I felt like first half today as well we were a little bit too fast, everybody wanted to do it, which is good, but you have to keep your calm a little bit. I thought second half we showed composure and as we’ve done the whole campaign, we dominated at home.”
For Rusnák, it was exactly the type of moment he envisioned when joined Seattle in free agency from Real Salt Lake over the offseason.
His stint in Utah was a distinguished one, as he made his name as one of the league’s most consistently productive attackers during his five-season run. The goal in coming to Seattle, Rusnák said, was to add another element to an already strong roster, and ideally help push the group to a level where winning trophies like CCL was possible.
Early on in his tenure as a Sounder, he’s already delivered.
“I wanted to compete for trophies, whether it’s MLS Cup, Open Cup, Concacaf Champions League, I felt like with me coming here it would be a good addition to an already great team that they had,” Rusnák said. “I’m just glad to work out this way, this is the perfect scenario that could happen. I was aware of the fact we’re going to play Champions League but you always say you want to win it, but it’s one thing to say it, another thing to do it, so I’m really grateful for this moment.”
“I still don’t think I’m getting what we achieved, it will come probably with a bit of time. Right now it feels like a trophy and later on we’ll realize we’re the first team to ever win it.”