Some rivalries are born of regional proximity. You learn to love-to-hate your neighbors, hopefully in a friendly way. Other rivalries are born because one team seems to block the other’s ambitions. For the Sounders, RSL are in that second category. Two teams that dominate the other when playing at home face off today, now with an undercurrent of “stop stealing our staff.”
Real Salt Lake dominates this series at home. Seattle Sounders only have a single regular season win at the near-mile-high stadium of Rio Tinto with an all-competitions record of 16-15-6, +1. Maybe the trick is to play against Salt Lake when their captain and short-list best player returns for the first time?
For RSL Soapbox, Matt answers Three Questions.
SaH: How will Real Salt Lake handle the Albert Rusnák hole in the XI?
RSLSB: You know, I just recorded a podcast episode, and I think the consensus is that we can’t fill that hole, and that we don’t currently have a player on the roster who can naturally fill it. The problem is not that we lack a creative player, or at least that we lack a player with vision. Damir Kreilach is a player with that vision, and I could see him making the attacking midfield role work really well. The problem is that Damir Kreilach is not Albert Rusnak, and as such, he lacks the mobility of Rusnak. That’s not to cast Kreilach aside, but I think we have underestimated how valuable their partnership was, even if it didn’t have feel-good moments typically. It’s one of the biggest problems RSL is facing, and until we figure it out, I am feeling a bit pessimistic.
SaH: What are the expectations for the team this year?
RSLSB: Oof. I don’t know. With this roster? I’d say they’re pretty low. We lost Rusnak and haven’t replaced him, and we haven’t yet re-signed Anderson Julio, who the club is reportedly in discussions with. That’s a 21-goal impact, and there aren’t players on the roster to fill that void. Now, if rumors come to fruition and we sign three designated players? Expectations could ramp up very quickly. But as things stand, I think we’re looking at a struggle to make it into the playoffs in 2022.
SaH: Weird to waste a pregame question on this, but the two teams played not too long ago — how will the new ownership group impact the soccer side of RSL?
RSLSB: No question wasted here. The impact could be swift, should the front office nail down a designated player, and that’s because they’re willing to invest money in players. Dell Loy Hansen infamously wanted players who were cheaper than the players they replaced; he wanted free transfers, low-value contracts, and to find a great deal. Unbelievably, we’ve had reliable information that we had our eyes on Krzysztof Piątek when he was at Genoa and before there was AC Milan interest, and we apparently had interest in Luis Diaz, now a star signing at Liverpool. Would those necessarily have come to fruition with our current ownership? Maybe, maybe not — but I think it’s clear the odds are much greater with an ownership group that is willing to invest in playing personnel — not just in facilities.
Check out the reverse and the Sounder at Heart podcast preview.