Albert Rusnák, our newest signing at Real Salt Lake, is a talented attacking player with designs on replacing Javier Morales in RSL’s lineup. He might also be replacing him in the No. 11 kit, too.
Obviously, he can never replace Morales as a figure at Real Salt Lake, and I don’t think we’re pretending he will. But should he be handed the famous kit Morales wore during his tenure on the Wasatch Front?
The Salt Lake Tribune’s reporter on the RSL beat, Chris Kamrani, quoted Rusnák being asked what number he’d wear at the club:
"To be honest with you, I don't know which numbers is available," he said. "If No. 11 is available, then I'll take that."
And, well, that number is available. Given the way Morales left the club — whoever you think was in the right, if anyone, it was certainly acrimonious in some way — the club’s likely to not resist too strongly giving him that number on the back of his shirt.
In a way, it’s perhaps a relief he wants the 11 and not the 10 — that’s Joao Plata’s number, and he’s certainly earning the right to wear one so ‘lofty’. We wouldn’t want any spat emerging.
Honoring Javier Morales’s legacy should be a priority for Real Salt Lake — at least when he’s done with his playing career, as it’s awfully weird to honor a now-rival — but that doesn’t have to take the form of a number.
One story comes to mind: After Dutch attacker Dennis Bergkamp left Arsenal, his number 10 was given to a center back, William Gallas. That was purportedly to keep the expectations reasonable for any player wearing that number — and maybe there’s something cultural there and Americans don’t hoist expectations in quite the same way based on a number.
No matter what happens, comparisons between Rusnák and Morales will run wild. That’s to be expected, and frankly, it would be a little bizarre if they weren’t compared in some way. But Morales was never a number at Real Salt Lake (and neither was Jason Kreis, if we’re going that direction) — he was something a lot greater, and we won’t forget it, even if another player wears the number.
Rusnák also spoke to the Tribune about Morales and his legacy — you’ll want to read the full article for that (it’s above), but here’s one quote from it.
With all due respect, he's probably one of the club's legends and in the whole MLS. It won't be easy, but I believe in my qualities and hopefully I will show it from Day 1.
There will certainly be some grumbling coming from some RSL fans if Rusnák gets to wear the number 11 on his back. There will be grumbling regardless, though, and no decision should be based on that.
If Rusnák wants the 11, I say we give it to him. It won’t produce any expectations we wouldn’t be holding over him regardless, and it shouldn’t dishonor the legacy of greatness to which Morales has claim.