Rusnák Watch is officially over, as the Seattle Sounders announced on Thursday that they had signed the 27-year-old attacking midfielder to a Designated Player contract.
Rusnák is a versatile playmaker capable of pulling off the spectacular, while also making the difficult seem routine. He scored 41 goals and added 39 assists in 140 appearances for RSL and is coming off an impressive year in which he started all 34 matches and recorded 11 goals and 11 assists. The Slovak international has 34 caps for his country and has consistently been one of the best, albeit underrated, attacking midfielders in the league over the past half-decade.
“We’re really excited about adding Albert,” said Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. “We think he could be a real difference maker for our team. We have a lot of good players on our team, but we think he takes us to the next level. He really gives us an additional capability in terms of bringing both goals and assists in multiple ways to our attack. We’re really excited. He’s a really good player and he’s going to make us better.”
Beyond Seattle’s history as one of the premier clubs in MLS, Rusnák’s ties to members of the Sounders front office and technical staff helped pave the way for his signing. He was initially brought into the league when Waibel served as the RSL General Manager. Rusnák also played for Sounders assistant coach Freddy Juarez, who served as the Utah club’s assistant coach from 2016-19 and head coach from 2019-21 before joining Seattle.
“Not that the brand doesn’t speak for itself, but a lot of time when you speak with free agents, they want to believe in the project and the people,” said Waibel. “I think having a little bit of that stability in our relationship helped.”
What Waibel initially loved about Rusnák’s game was his strength in 1-v-1 situations and his ability to deliver the perfect ball in the final third. Rusnák’s game has matured and developed in MLS, and he comes to Seattle in the prime of his career ready to join an already exciting cast.
“I think here in Seattle, a lot of Albert’s qualities are going to complement the players around him, and I think the players around him are going to enhance his abilities even more,” said Waibel. “I think what we saw back then, he’s a much more mature physical, as well as mental, as well as technical version of Albert than five years ago.”
The Sounders scored 53 goals last season, an impressive number for a team that was without captain and playmaker Nicolás Lodeiro and speedy threat Jordan Morris for almost the entire the year. The pair were 2020 MLS Best XI selections before battling injuries, and their returns alongside Rusnák’s signing give Seattle, which also features Raúl Ruidíaz, Cristian Roldan and João Paulo, its best attacking depth since joining MLS in 2009.
“I think [Rusnák’s] going to be a really good fit and hopefully give us a lot of different options as to how to attack and how to defend,” said Lagerwey. “We’ve been disappointed the last two years that we haven’t gone further than we did. We feel like we should have achieved more in 2020 and more in 2021. We’re going to go out in 2022 and try to win every competition that we’re in.”
The Sounders will get that chance as they open 2022 in Concacaf Champions League with a Round of 16 series against Honduran club FC Motagua.