Real Salt Lake has just nine games left in the 2020 regular season. For six of them, the team will be without one of its main pieces.
Midfielder and designated player Albert Rusnák has been called up to the Slovakian national team to play in a knockout game against Ireland on Oct. 8. Due to the travel and the current 10-day quarantine mandated by Major League Soccer, Rusnák will miss two-thirds of the remaining RSL schedule.
The matchup between Slovakia and Ireland is a knockout semifinal match for the UEFA European Championship Qualifiers.
“It’s the biggest game for our national team since I’ve been a part [of it],” Rusnák told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. “It’s a one-off game and it’s basically all or nothing, that game.”
Rusnák will also play in Slovakia’s Nation League games against Scotland and Israel on Oct. 11 and 14, respectively.
Rusnák said playing against LAFC on Sunday would have made it so his arrival in Slovakia would be just a day before the Ireland game and play for his national team without training beforehand. Instead, he opted to leave earlier and miss the LAFC game.
Rusnák also said the last time he could have been called up, his national team coach let him stay with RSL and not miss any games. But when the next window came around, Rusnák would have to join Slovakia “no matter what it takes.”
Rusnák will have to test negative for COVID-19 48 hours before he arrives in Slovakia, he said, and will also get tested when he arrives. If the second test is also negative, he won’t have to quarantine.
When he comes to back Utah, Rusnák won’t be allowed to train with the entire team for 10 days, per current MLS rules. Coach Freddy Juarez said Rusnák would be allowed to train individually when returns, but that could change.
The six games Rusnák will miss are Sunday against LAFC, Wednesday at Seattle, Oct. 10 at Vancouver, Oct. 14 against Portland, Oct. 18 at Colorado and Oct. 24 against FC Dallas. He could presumably return Oct. 28 at San Jose.
“Our mentality is we have to move forward,” Juarez said. “We’ve dealt with it in the past with players leaving to the national team. We’re confident in players that we have and what we have available to us so we can manipulate situations.”
RSL on Sunday faces an LAFC team that will have more rest this time around compared to the the last time the two played each other, when both teams were coming off three games in seven days. Salt Lake beat LAFC 3-0 on Sept. 9 when L.A. was without star Carlos Vela and didn’t start its preferred lineup.
RSL will have more rest, too. But Juarez expects “the best LAFC,” and not having Rusnák’s talents on the field will create an adjustment.
“You lose a player that’s very intelligent, very technical, can put a pause to a hectic game, can increase the speed [of] a slow game, make the difference at any given moment,” Juarez said. “So we will have to see what our tactics are around that.”