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Albert Rusnák enters final year of RSL contract with high expectations

Rusnák is the team’s highest-paid player and RSL officials describe him as ‘integral’ to what the team does.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) brings the ball downfield, in MLS soccer action at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Saturday, March 9, 2019.

Albert Rusnák was one of the players who helped organize voluntary offseason workouts so Real Salt Lake could get a head start on the 2021 Major League Soccer season. He’s impressed the coaching staff with his level of fitness, training habits and a change in nutrition.

It’s those things that give coach Freddy Juarez the confidence that Rusnák, the team’s highest-paid player, is primed for a breakout year.

“We need him to have to have a good season and I believe he will with everything that he’s doing.”

Rusnák is entering the final year of his deal with RSL that he signed in December of 2018. He said that because the club still has not found a new owner, “there’s nothing that I or the club can really do at the moment” regarding his contract.

But 2021 could be an important year for Rusnák. Aside from his role on RSL, his national team, Slovakia, will compete in the UEFA Euro tournament this summer, and is also in the mix to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Rusnák said he’s approaching this season like any other. There is, however, one change he made that could impact his play on the field.

The 26-year-old attacking midfielder had so much downtime during the almost-six-month-long offseason that he started thinking of ways he could be a better athlete besides the traditional training and weight lifting. He decided to change his diet around late September or early October.

SEASON OPENER

RSL AT MINNESOTA UNITED

When • Saturday, 6 p.m. MT

TV • KMYU

Rusnák said he tried “all sorts of stuff” over the offseason — vegan, vegetarian, plant-based. He landed on a situation where he is eating more vegetables, trying his best to eat mostly plant-based food.

But Rusnák acknowledged that a change in nutrition isn’t a panacea.

“Nowhere it says if you change your diet it’s going to be amazing and you’re going to be the top goal scorer and you’re going to play your best football ever. That’s not guaranteed,” Rusnák said. “But if it’s something that can help me improve, that’s what I did.”

Rusnák scored just three goals and added two assists in MLS play last year, and he’ll likely want to improve on those numbers while also helping RSL rebound from a disappointing 2020.

Rusnák has said multiple times this offseason that 2020 wasn’t good enough by RSL’s standards. And regardless of his personal situation or statistics, he wants to be part of the team concept first.

“Whether it’s my last year or I’ve got three more years left … we want to improve as a team,” Rusnák said. “When the team improves and when the performances of the team will improve and will be higher on the table, that’s when you start to see the individuals shine a little more.”

General Manager Elliot Fall recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that Rusnák is “integral” to what the team does on the field with his ability to be goal-dangerous and also break down defenses with his passing.

“He’s central to everything we do going forward and he will be this year,” Fall said. “We’re expecting really big things from him and excited for the year we think he’ll have.”

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