Much was made about Albert Rusnák’s offensive contributions last year after he made one of the biggest moves in Major League Soccer free agency history by joining the Seattle Sounders as a Designated Player from Real Salt Lake. The Slovakian international had 41 goals and 39 assists in five seasons in Utah and had huge expectations to post similar numbers in Seattle.
But Head Coach Brian Schmetzer deployed Rusnák deeper in midfield than he was accustomed to playing, forming a formidable double-pivot with João Paulo that propelled the Sounders to Concacaf Champions League glory. Rusnák’s tangible stats dropped in turn, recording just three goals and two assists last year as he played a deeper role.
Now the Sounders have turned to Rusnák for more attacking influence down the stretch of this season, and he’s delivered. Since getting the opportunity to return to his more natural attacking midfield position, he’s scored four goals in his last six starts dating back to Sept. 20.
“Albert’s done a great job,” said Schmetzer. “We won [Concacaf] Champions League with him playing next to [João Paulo] and Nico [Lodeiro] up a line. I still have that option. But he’s certainly enjoying playing, he’s enjoying that spot on the field. It suits his best talents.”
Rusnák stepped up again on Friday night in a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Lumen Field that sent the Sounders to a 2-1 opening-round series win in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Rusnák made a darting run in behind after João Paulo intercepted a pass in Dallas’ half and coolly slotted home the eventual game-winning goal in the 36th minute.
The tally was Rusnák’s seventh in MLS competitions this season, and all seven have been match-winners.
“That’s pretty impressive,” said Schmetzer. “Tonight’s no different, so kudos to Albert.”
Added Rusnák: “It’s nice to score goals, and I’m happy to help the team. Today was all about winning the game and advancing to the next round, whether it was with one goal or three goals, it’s really good.”
Rusnák has such a good rhythm and feel for the game in the attacking third, as evidenced yet again by his awareness to find a pocket of space on Friday night. His more advanced role seems likely to continue as the Sounders welcome LAFC to Seattle for a one-off Western Conference Semifinal on either Nov. 25 or Nov. 26.
“Playing a bit deeper, you don’t get a lot of those chances to make those runs inside the box,” said Rusnák. “It was [João Paulo’s] pass that led me onto the run…We’re at our best when we win the ball and our first pass is direct and it’s forward.”
Rusnák is no stranger to playing in different positions on the pitch, sometimes multiple in the same match. Whether he’s deployed as a deep-lying playmaker, an inverted winger or his preferred No. 10, Schmetzer knows and trusts that Rusnák will continue to put himself in positive situations.
“He’s a team guy,” Schmetzer said of Rusnák. “He would play wherever we asked him to with the same enthusiasm, same quality. That’s why you have a team now with some home games to go even further in the playoffs.
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