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Albert Rusnák ready to make up for lost time

The Sounders built their roster around Rusnák’s skillset. Now, we get to see how smart that was.

Last Updated
7 min read
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

RENTON – This was not how almost anyone envisioned the Seattle Sounders starting the season. Most pundits picked them as the favorites to win the Western Conference and many even thought they could make a run at the Supporters’ Shield.

The roster was reasonably well stocked with proven talent, with a mix of younger players who could reasonably break out, even if it lacked obvious MVP candidates.

In a way, Albert Rusnák was a near perfect embodiment of the roster. The 29-year-old was coming off a season in which he scored seven goals, five of them in the nine games he started down the stretch at the No. 10 spot. It was strong evidence that he could still be as productive as he was in Real Salt Lake, where he basically averaged double-digit goals and assists over the course of five seasons.

The Sounders picked up Rusnák’s contract option that kept him as a Designated Player and effectively signaled that they’d build their offense around him, largely on the strength of his late-season performance. It was not a particularly bold or sexy move, but it did make sense. The Sounders were going with someone who knew the system, had a proven level of productivity and had remained remarkably healthy throughout his professional career.

The only problem? The one player for whom the Sounders didn’t have an obvious backup sprained his ankle in the final training session before the regular-season opener. With him went most of the offseason and preseason planning. That was compounded by several other injuries, many of them along the spine of the team.

Four games into the season, the Sounders have been missing at least four preferred starters from each of Brian Schmetzer’s lineups. No one is pretending as if the injuries alone explain away the impossible-to-escape fact that they are 0-2-2 and currently mired in last place of the Western Conference, but it does also suggest that performance should improve as the team gets closer to full health.

That theory will be somewhat put the test this week when Rusnák is expected to return to the starting lineup against the LA Galaxy.

Rusnák says he’s now feeling good, virtually pain free and maybe even in better shape than when he first got hurt. He also understands the need for him to hit the ground running.

“Injuries are part of the game and by this point we’re used to them,” Rusnák told reporters following Tuesday’s training session. “It’s what we’re dealing with right now. You don’t want to use that as an excuse. But we know we went through that rough spell last summer and still finished second.

“It’s too early to be negative but there are some things we need to improve.”

One thing you learn quickly in interacting with Rusnák is how matter-of-fact he can be. The son of a former professional player, coach and scout, Rusnák moved from his native Slovakia to play for Manchester City’s academy just after he turned 16.

From an early age, he treated soccer as a profession. He saw friends get cut from teams and was competing with older players for minutes. There was rarely room for sentimentality.

By the time he moved to MLS to join RSL as a 23-year-old, Rusnák had already played for four professional teams and lived in three different countries, learning different styles, tactics and techniques along the way.

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