Tatiana Zalcerova has since blocked out her labor and the words Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnák, her longtime boyfriend, tried and failed to comfort her with.
But she does remember crying as she watched Rusnák hold their daughter Ariana for the first time. He, too, couldn’t hold back tears of joy.
“She loves him so much,” Zalcerova said. “She’s daddy’s girl.”
On Sunday Rusnák celebrates his first Father’s Day amid an MLS international break. Last season’s leading scorer for the team welcomed his daughter into the world on Sept. 26 and has since engaged in the balancing act of juggling fatherhood, a professional soccer career and international duty.
“She’s a good traveler, and I think with my job that’s really important,” Rusnák said. “... She’s done a lot for an eight-month-old baby.”
Ariana has already taken four or five plane trips, Rusnák estimates, including vacations to Las Vegas and Slovakia. Both her parents marveled at how good she was at flying. She sleeps well, Rusnák said, but sometimes she gets mad that she can’t move around and play.
Ariana was born between two of Rusnák’s call-ups for World Cup qualifiers with Slovakia last season. Ten days before her birth, Rusnák scored the first goal in RSL’s 2-1 win over Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium.
As Zalcerova watched from the press box, Rusnák grabbed the game ball and slipped it under his jersey, gesturing as if he was sucking his thumb.
“I am on hold every day in training because it can be anytime right now,” he said of his celebration after that game. “It is just a phone call from my girl and I have got to go.”
Ariana eased the stress on her parents by entering the world mid-week, when her dad didn’t have to sprint off the pitch or jump on a plane to witness her birth.
A few days after her birth, however, Rusnák boarded a plane to meet up with the Slovakia national team halfway across the world from his daughter. That trip was one she couldn’t take with him.
“It’s hard,” Rusnák said of the times he has to leave Ariana in Salt Lake City. “Whenever you come home you’re looking forward to seeing her again. And it’s like, you don’t see her for a week and then she’s already bigger and she already does something new.”
Rusnák marvels at each new step Arian takes: her first smile, when she started babbling, the first time she stood up.
When they’re together, Rusnák’s Instagram story quickly fills up with videos of Ariana. Zalcerova says she sees more of him in Ariana in herself. They have the same blue eyes.
“It is going fast I have to say,” Rusnák said. “She’s almost nine months and it feels like it [has been] a week.”
SAN JOSE AT RSL
When • June 23, 8 p.m.
TV • KMYU