Three Points: Stellar RSL debut for Julio and Rubin, Rusnák named captain and a season-opening victory

Real Salt Lake beats Minnesota United 2-1 on the road to open the 2021 Major League Soccer season.

Real Salt Lake forward Rubio Rubin (14) goes for the ball over Minnesota United defender Michael Boxall (15) during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, April 24, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Real Salt Lake beat Minnesota United 2-1 on the road Saturday in its season opener. Here are three takeaways from the game.

1. A stellar debut

I’m not sure anyone had “Anderson Julio Scores A Brace In His MLS Debut” or “Rubio Rubin Gets Two Assists In His MLS Debut” on their RSL bingo cards, but that’s exactly what happened.

Julio and Rubin, two of the club’s three offseason acquisitions in the attack, quieted the naysayers who thought them coming into the fold for RSL wasn’t enough to put the team in the playoff picture. At least, it has quieted them for one game.

But Julio and Rubin’s performance — even in one game — is notable because for so much of last season, RSL could not score to save its life. The front office made a concerted effort to turn that part of the field around, and Saturday those decisions bore fruit.

Julio continued what he did in the preseason: use his speed and his work rate to get in good goal-scoring position. Rubin’s second assist was a masterclass in decision making in the final third.

Both players are young and there are 33 games left in the season. But RSL has to like what they brought in the first MLS games of their careers, and fans must feel very excited for the potential of the team’s attack.

“We know their qualities,” coach Freddy Juarez said. “We brought them for a reason. We thought they would mesh well with the group and the strengths that we had as a group. What we lacked is [the] reason why we brought them.”

2. Rusnák named captain

Juarez was coy when asked this week what decision he made regarding who would wear the captain’s armband for RSL this season. Many fans expected Damir Kreilach would get the honor considering his veteran leadership.

But Juarez went with Rusnák, who is in the final year of his contract and has high expectations from the coaching staff and front office this season. Juarez said before the game that he chose Rusnák because the attacking midfielder made some changes in the offseason that showed him he was ready to take the next step from a leadership standpoint.

“It’s a massive honor for me lead the team, the club, the whole organization basically, on the field,” Rusnák said after the game. “It’s a big responsibility and I’m prepared to take that.”

It may come as a surprise that Kreilach won’t be the main captain, but it does make some sense. Rusnák is the team’s designated player and much younger than Kreilach.

Also, Kreilach is under contract for several years. Without an owner, nothing can be done about Rusnák’s deal at the moment, but naming him captain could incentivize him throughout the season and also shows how much he means to the organization.

Kreilach will co-captain RSL, and defender Justen Glad was named the third captain.

3. RSL continues opener streak

The 2021 season is the 16th for the RSL franchise. And in the last 12 season openers, the team has recorded either a win or a draw.

Going into Saturday’s match against Minnesota, RSL had drawn the previous six season openers. And considering how poorly the Loons played in the second half of their game last week against the Seattle Sounders, it was conceivable to think they’d be out for blood and break Salt Lake’s streak.

Instead, RSL went into their house and handed them a loss. It was RSL’s first-ever win in Minnesota, too. So there was history in the making on two fronts for Salt Lake, which earned an impressive three points in the process.

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