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What we’ve learned about RSL as it heads into an international break

There’s plenty to like about Real Salt Lake through six games, but still some concerns to iron out.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake forward Rubio Rubin (14) reacts after scoring his second goal of the day for Real Salt Lake, in MLS action between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium, on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Rubin has emerged as a budding star for RSL in the early part of the 2021 season.

Real Salt Lake started the season strong with two consecutive wins, but hasn’t won a game since. Although the last three of those games have been draws, the last two have come out of RSL having a lead and then relinquishing it.

Still, there is plenty to be optimistic about for RSL fans. Three new players are headed into the market, Andrew Brody has earned a starting spot and the club has played two less games than the rest of Major League Soccer.

So as RSL rests and recharges during the June international break, here are some things we’ve learned about the club through its first six games.

Albert Rusnák is slumping

It’s no secret at this point that the RSL front office had high exceptions for Rusnák as he started the final year of his contract. Freddy Juarez went so far as to name him captain over Damir Kreilach, who became the team’s co-captain.

And not for nothing, Rusnák has the highest salary on the team at $2.35 million, per the MLS Players Association.

But Rusnák, who is considered integral to RSL’s attack, has yet to record a goal or an assist. In his nine shot attempts so far this season, only one of them was on goal, and he’s played all but one minute in six starts.

Rusnák is fourth in shot-creating actions on the team with 14. Those are defined by FBRef as “the two offensive actions directly leading to a shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls.”

Midfielders Kreilach and Pablo Ruiz, whose responsibilities lie not as high up the field, have done more in shot creation than Rusnák. But, the Slovakian does have more shot-creating actions than other wingers like Justin Meram (11) and Anderson Julio (five). Rusnák has mostly played on the wing this season as opposed to his preferred attacking midfielder position.

But the lack of discernible production has led some fans to think Rusnák isn’t worthy of a starting position or the captain’s armband. Coach Freddy Juarez thinks differently, as he outlined Tuesday in a testy exchange with a reporter.

“I see a hardworking captain,” Juarez said. “I see a person that set the standards for the group that came in at the beginning of the year. I see a guy that gets the ball in areas and is very good with it. He’s continuing to push. He’s helping the group in many, many ways.”

While Juarez will certainly defend his players as much as he can, it’s hard to ignore Rusnák’s lack of production. It’s also hard to ignore that the Slovakian national team left him off the roster to compete in the upcoming European championships — a tournament for which Rusnák helped Slovakia qualify.

(Photo courtesy of Major League Soccer) Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnák passes the ball during the first half of the 5-2 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes on July 27, 2020, in the MLS is Back Tournament.

RSL is more fun with Rubio Rubin and Andrew Brody

It’s always difficult to predict just how productive a new player will be on a team’s roster. There are too many variables to consider.

But Rubio Rubin has come in to his first MLS games with guns a-blazin’. He has four goals in six games and two assists as well. One of those goals came in truly spectacular fashion as he buried a bicycle kick in the loss to San Jose. And he’s also doing yeoman’s work on the defensive end.

Then there’s Andrew Brody, who is also getting his first real taste of MLS action after several years with the Real Monarchs of the United Soccer League Championship and a stint in Austria. His opportunity came due to Aaron Herrera’s injury, but he played so well that now he’s playing on the same back line as his friend and roommate.

Juarez and other players have praised Brody’s work rate, his tenacity and his drive. And even though he’s playing a bit out of position as right-footed player serving as a left back, the fact that he overtook Donny Toia’s spot says a lot.

More players are coming. The club expects the arrivals of Bobby Wood and Jonathan Menéndez by the end of the break, and it recently announced the signing of Croatian defender Toni Datković. But early in the season it’s evident that Rubin and Brody alone have turned the feelings toward RSL around nearly 180 degrees.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Andrew Brody (2) competes in MLS action between Real Salt Lake and Minnesota United FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, on Saturday, May 29, 2021.

RSL struggles finishing off games

Herrera said it best after the draw against Minnesota United: “We should be 6-0 right now.”

That’s probably overstating things. But the counterfactual is a compelling one: If the club had found a way to hold onto leads, it would not be eighth in the Western Conference heading into the international break.

It started four games ago against the Earthquakes. RSL had a 1-0 lead before giving up two in the last 10 minutes. Against FC Dallas, RSL led 1-0 early before giving up two and needing Kreilach’s clutch gene to show up to save a point. In the game after that, RSL had a 1-0 lead for 60-plus minutes before conceding the tying one late.

Defender Justen Glad said that while he feels RSL has a tendency not to attach as much in second halves when it has a lead, the team at the same time as been a victim of some bad luck.

But Glad still thinks there’s plenty of work that can be done in order to finish off games.

“The way that I would combat that would just be focus for 90 minutes,” Glad said. “You could argue that maybe some of these late goals come from a lack of focus.”

Glad said the key to killing off games lies on the offensive side of the field.

“Obviously we’d love to score more goals,” Glad said. “When you go to 2 [or] 3-0, it kind of deflates the other team. But that being said, we have to find a way to close out these games and get these points.”

RSL AT. VANCOUVER

When • June 18, 8 p.m. MT

TV • KMYU


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