Anticipation was high for the debut of new Real Salt Lake signing Albert Rusnak. The 22-year-old former Manchester City youth star arrive in Utah from FC Groningen as a Young designated player and is widely seen as the long term replacement for club legend Javier Morales, even taking his shirt number.
Rusnak didn't report into preseason at the same time as the rest of the squad, linking up afterwards with his new team mates but in the few matches he got under his belt, there were a few bright moments that showed a glimpse of things to come with the four-man attacking core.
RSL fans who hadn't seen any of the preseason games finally got to see their first outing from the new number 11 this week as RSL drew 0-0 with Toronto. With so much expectations on many of the young players lining up in the Claret and Cobalt, the on the day excitement for Rusnak has been somewhat tempered by the stunning showings from Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo in the U20 teams, the late injury to Aaron Maund and Jeff Cassar shocking the world with his fashion choice. However, with Rusnak set to take such a central role, it's time to put him under the spotlight.
Just to clarify, I'm going to look at the three key areas attacking midfielders contribute in the formation and tactics we played. Goals/Assists, Positioning, Passing. We could look at all the stats from the game and see what he did and against a different opponent or in a different tactical line up players in his position could be asked to do different things so for the sake of brevity, it's just those three here. I'm on Twitter if you want to ask more.
Goals & Assists
Well, it was 0-0 so I think we can make a snap judgement on this one, but it wouldn't be accurate. He managed to hit two shots, one blocked and one off target, in a game where we hit 17 shots in total. At the time I felt he snatched at the chance and could have taken an extra touch rather than uncorking it so far out but having seen it again I'm a little kinder on it. I think he wanted the pass from Yura come a little faster and a little further forward. He'd made the choice he was going to hit it early and if the ball had been a little further forward he may have had a better shot. I saw a number of comments to this effect and I tend to agree, Rusnak wanted to play a little faster. I don't think the chemistry is quite there yet but that he was getting into that rhythm is a good sign. No assists either, but for key passes we have two outside the box and two inside, one of which was connecting the dots between Plata and Beckerman to allow Plata the best chance of the game for RSL.
If I am being honest, on this front, I was a little underwhelmed. I wanted a bit more aggression from Rusnak in attacking play and I had hoped that he would be a little more central. However, I do think that the choice to play things wider against Toronto limited his impact in the game. Still, fans will be looking for more on this front against Chicago.
If you look at the heat map of Rusnak you get a decent idea of what his role is within the squad in this shape:
He's playing a little deeper than I imagined he would be but some of that is likely tactical. He's in the middle of the park and also down the right wing a bit too which I still attribute to Cassar deciding that attacking play was going to come from the right. He's floating around the entire midfield and connecting the dots as this chart from our own Matt Montgomery shows:
Albert Rusnak’s touches on the ball tonight. Just take it as context. pic.twitter.com/ETS2lYEJJs— Matt Montgomery (@TheCrossbarRSL) March 4, 2017
So he's been very active in the midfield position. It might be worth thinking of his performance in the first game as less of a Javier Morales and more like Ned Grabavoy. The one thing Ned better than most is keep the ball moving and it was often underrated how much he kept the classic diamond look together. For me, his positioning was great, moving in and out of space, staying active and connecting play with simple layoffs and passes. More of this please.
Passing charts are a mess so I won't post one here, but I will give you the notes: 48 passes with only two turnovers, two registering as key passes and one set play pass. As mentioned before, he's not making the huge long balls to launch an attack but he's making short passes to keep things ticking over while we are in possession. There's a lack of killer balls here that's glowing to me to be honest and while it's too early to worry it's something I will be keeping an eye on for sure. In part that may be just a lack of game fitness from other players and them failing to make the runs. Toronto played very aggressively as well and did well at limiting our time on the ball, it was a tough day in the office for all of our attacking players. Chicago generally don't play as aggressive and are happy to play in their own half so you'd expect Rusnak to have a better game against them.
All in all, the post-match review of Rusnak’s debut could be summed up in the same way I summed up his pre-match debut, overshadowed by other stories. Kyle Beckerman getting 90 minutes after rumors he wouldn't, the heroics of Nick Rimando, the whole sweater thing again. I don't think a game against a Toronto team with a chip on their shoulder was the right one for a spectacular debut but I think he was solid in his first outing. You don't want a DP to be solid though, you want them to deliver and I'll be watching again to see what kind of performance we get against Chicago.