There were plenty of high expectations when Albert Rusnák joined the Seattle Sounders in 2022, and rightfully so. The Slovakian Designated Player was coming off a double-double season with 11 goals and 11 assists at Real Salt Lake and had quietly been one of the more effective players in MLS since his arrival from Europe in 2017.
Rusnák was as integral a part as any in the Sounders’ Concacaf Champions League triumph in 2022, but he finished the MLS campaign with just three goals and two assists after scoring at least 10 goals in three of his previous four MLS seasons. So when he opened his 2023 account with a late, one-timed finish in the Sounders’ 1-0 win over Minnesota United at Lumen Field on Saturday, Rusnák reminded everyone of just how good he can be.
“It was a great goal,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “It was a well-taken goal and shows Albert’s quality.”
Schmetzer was quick to acknowledge that the lack of evidence in the score sheet from Rusnák was not a shortage of production, but rather a byproduct of the role and system in which Schmetzer was utilizing him. Rusnák was primarily a No. 10 at RSL, a creative playmaker tasked with carrying much of the attacking load for a team that required him to do that. In Seattle, he can share some of the offensive burden with tons of other talent around him.
“I’m the one who’s playing him back a line, and then I move him tonight from up to back,” said Schmetzer. “I feel for Albert sometimes, but he’s a pro. Anything he can do to contribute to the team, he’ll do it. Tonight is just a reward for him for persevering through my version of where he should play.”
Added Rusnák: “I’ve played the 6, 8, 10. I’ve played on the right wing, sometimes I play on the left. In different positions you have to adapt how you play, and I always try and do well for the team.”
On Saturday, Rusnák took his opportunity by confidently burying the match-winner on a night where, despite two-thirds possession and a firm grasp on the game, the Sounders couldn’t quite unlock Minnesota’s defense. Seattle was missing several key attacking pieces in Raúl Ruidíaz (hamstring) and Cristian Roldan (concussion protocol), while Jordan Morris came on as a second-half substitute after playing almost 90 minutes midweek with the United States national team.
The Sounders still managed to push their nearly perfect record at Lumen Field to 4-0-1 so far this season and have outscored opponents 10-0. Their five consecutive clean sheets are a club record, and in a long season, the best teams must find different ways to grind out results, something that Seattle has done an excellent job of thus far.
“If you want to be at the top of the league, you have to sometimes scrap away wins,” said Rusnák. “We feel like we’ve done that a couple of times this year on the road, and it feels like the first one of the season at home.”
The Sounders will now shift their attention to their opening match of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday when they host USL Championship side San Diego Loyal (7 p.m. PT | TICKETS) at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Wash.
What aptly awaits next Saturday? A return date for Rusnák to Salt Lake City against RSL. And wherever Rusnák lines up in that one, expect him to be a difference-maker.
“The stats are not there [in Seattle] as they were in Salt Lake,” he said, “but there’s different stuff that’s asked from me in order for the team to succeed, and I’m happy to do that.”