When Albert Rusnák joined the Seattle Sounders as a Designated Player via MLS Free Agency this past offseason, the club, and the rest of the league, knew it was getting an impact player. But how he has blended into the team has manifested itself in different ways.
Rusnák was a high-usage, stat-stuffing monster at Real Salt Lake. He was both playmaker and finisher on a team that needed him to win games. He carried RSL for much of his five years there, finishing with 41 goals and 40 assists, including three seasons of 10-plus goals. He was also one of only two players in MLS last season with double digits in goals and assists.
Perhaps it’s a little odd on the surface, then, to see him with only a single assist and without a goal through 12 MLS matches (his lone tally so far in Rave Green, though, came in a crucial Concacaf Champions League semifinal against New York City FC). Part of it has to do with the Sounders taking a little time to figure out where he fits in best — he’s played on the wing, as a No. 10 and more recently as a No. 8 — coupled with the fact that where he is the most successful is in midfield transition.
MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle said when Rusnák signed that he would lift Seattle’s floor more than raise its ceiling, and in a way that’s true. He does all of the little nuances incredibly well that at times it’s taken for granted. He has morphed into an elite deeper-lying playmaker, whose contributions seldom show up on highlight reels but are ultimately instrumental in scoring goals and winning matches.
The Sounders already have so many match-winners that they don’t need to rely on Rusnák to do that all the time. He’s certainly capable, but he doesn’t have to game-in and game-out. What he has done, however, is provide a steadying presence in the midfield, especially with João Paulo lost for the year.
Rusnák has been tremendous in nearly every offensive category. He’s statistically good or great at everything, and it’s why he’s such a highly valuable commodity.
“If I’m setting expectations, Albert has done a great job, but he’s only been here for a third of an MLS season,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “There’s still going to be room to grow, for him to learn Nico [Lodeiro’s] tendencies, Cristian [Roldan], Jordan [Morris], Raúl [Ruidíaz], Yeimar. He’s still going to get better.”
Rusnák came to the Sounders to win trophies, and it took him just four months to capture the biggest one in league history, as the Sounders became the first MLS team to win the elusive CCL title. In the second leg of the CCL Final, it was Rusnák’s heady run to knife through and unbalance Pumas’ defense that led to Ruidíaz’s opening goal. Rusnák won’t get an assist for it, but it was his ability on the ball and recognition of space that helped Seattle score what ultimately became the match-winner.
Rusnák also started the Sounders’ second goal when he dribbled out of pressure in his own defensive third. Moments later, Ruidíaz finished his second goal of the match and gave Seattle one hand on the trophy.
“These types 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,” said Rusnák.
Every time the Sounders chalk up another three points in the win column, there’s an overwhelming chance that Rusnák had his fingerprints all over it.