Real Salt Lake defender Toni Datković recently addressed his new teammates and coaches for the first time and quickly gave a glimpse of what he’s looking to bring to the table.
“I just cannot wait until the games to kick ass on the other opponents,” Datković told the group, prompting a laugh.
But nothing about Datković's statement is funny on a ha-ha level.
RSL signed the left-footed center back to bolster the team’s depth at that position. He joined a group that consists of Justen Glad, Marcelo Silva, Erik Holt and, in a pinch, Nick Besler.
But what makes Datković a good fit for RSL, coach Freddy Juarez said, is the fact that the Croatian takes pride in being a defender first and loves to block shots and execute tackles. His nickname when he played Spain was “Sicario,” or, “Hitman” — a moniker he has embraced.
Datković is good friends with midfielder Damir Kreilach, who is also from Croatia. The two met early in their careers when Datković was in the academy at Rijeka, and Kreilach was the captain of the first team.
“Everybody looked up to him,” Datković said.
The pair have been friends for 15 years, said Kreilach, who added that he told the RSL front office what Datković was like as a person. That insight likely proved helpful in the decision to sign him.
“He’s a true professional as well as a true leader,” Kreilach said of Datković. “That’s the type of player that this organization needs. I think we are going to be happy with Toni for sure.”
RSL General Manager Elliot Fall said Datković has been cleared to play, although he is not yet fit enough to play a full 90 minutes. But the possibility still exists for him to play Saturday on the road against LAFC, Fall said.
Datković's deal is for two seasons, per RSL. But if all goes well, he can see himself in Salt Lake for the long haul.
“Everybody took me in like I’m here two years,” Datković said. “If this continues and I’m happy, the club is happy, I can be here like Damir for example — until the end of my career.”
Rubio Rubin gets contract extension
Forward Rubio Rubin will be around for the foreseeable future.
Fall on Wednesday during an appearance on ESPN700 confirmed that Rubin recently agreed to a contract extension that will keep him with RSL up to four more years after 2021. The Athletic broke the story shortly before Fall’s radio appearance.
Rubin’s deal is guaranteed through the 2024 season and has an option for 2025, a person familiar with the situation told The Salt Lake Tribune. Rubin’s salary will get close to the maximum budget charge in each of those years, the person said. The Athletic was first to report those details.
Rubin’s base salary for this season is $135,000, per the MLS Players Association. The maximum budget charge for 2021 is $612,500.
Rubin started well in his first year in Major League Soccer. Through 11 games, he has 10 starts, four goals and two assists. Fall told The Tribune last month that Rubin had exceeded expectations and the club wanted him around “far beyond” this season.
Jony Menéndez arrives
Fall had some more news regarding new RSL signings: winger Jony Menéndez touched down in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
The club announced Menéndez’s acquisition in late May. The delay in his arrival centered around getting everything with the immigration process sorted out.
Juarez said on ESPN700 earlier this week that all of Menéndez’s paperwork was done and he was expected to arrive by Friday at the latest.
Menéndez signed a three-year contract with RSL, which used targeted allocation money to get him. Once he integrates with the team, he’ll be competing for minutes alongside other wingers like Albert Rusnák, Anderson Julio and Justin Meram.