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Comparing Rusnak and the Maestro, Javier Morales

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RSL’s two prominent playmakers have some striking similarities.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly a year since we last saw Javier Morales don a Real Salt Lake uniform, and there’s inevitably a certain reflection that comes alongside such milestones.

But the most important reflection we can be doing right now, I think, is actually about a player on our roster now, Albert Rusnak, who was more or less a direct replacement for Morales, RSL veteran, after his departure from the club.

It’s obviously hard to form a direct comparison, given Morales signed at RSL as a 27-year-old, and Rusnak joined at 22 — those five years are hugely formative for a player. That might also give us some room for additional excitement, but let’s look at the numbers before we get too far along here.

First, let’s establish one thing: It’s not really fair to compare Morales in 2017 to Rusnak in 2017, given they serve very different roles at different clubs. Morales is a bench-sitting veteran — and at 37 years old, that’s reasonable — while Rusnak is a first-choice starter. So let’s establish a point of comparison that would be useful for us, and honestly, we really should look at Morales at his peak, which would arguably be from 2010 to 2015 — at least, that’s the case if we’re looking at the raw numbers.

Let’s also be sure to look at those numbers per game, per season — that’s how we’ll need to be mindful of Morales’s 2011 injury that cost him most of the season.

Morales, 2010–2015

Goals per game

  • 2010: 0.27 goals per game
  • 2011: 0.20 goals per game
  • 2012: 0.10 goals per game
  • 2013: 0.29 goals per game
  • 2014: 0.30 goals per game
  • 2015: 0.31 goals per game

Assists per game

  • 2010: 0.34
  • 2011: 0.30
  • 2012: 0.31
  • 2013: 0.36
  • 2014: 0.40
  • 2015: 0.46

Not a bad run, right? He’s clearly more assist-oriented than goal-oriented, which is what we would have expected. Let’s turn our attention to Rusnak.

Rusnak, 2017

Goals per game: 0.25

Assists per game: 0.46

Obviously, the season isn’t done yet, but these are the numbers we have so far, and with attention on Rusnak following his return from international duty with Slovakia, in which he did play some minutes, it’s a good time to take a look at how things are shaping up.

First, in goals per game, Rusnak is right around Morales — those .05 goals per game between the two translate to just over a goal over the course of a 30-game season, which would be Rusnak’s maximum regular season games played in 2017.

In assists per game, we get the most remarkable statistic: Rusnak is currently at Javi’s best season in assists per game. If he has no more assists in 2017, he’ll equal his worst season.

What’s the difference?

I’m as big a fan of Javi as anybody, and I think it’s important to recognize that his impact was much, much bigger than just goals and assists. We probably can’t say that for Rusnak quite yet, but hoisting that expectation on him at this point would be unfair. That’s one area where Morales has a very distinct edge.

But I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that Morales, for good chunks of his career in Salt Lake City, was RSL’s designated penalty kick taker, and that did increase his goals count. In fact, for 2014 and 2015, he ends up with 0.16 and 0.26 goals per game minus penalties, respectively.

I’d argue that, at this point, we have a more productive attacking midfielder — and I think we see that in the numbers. With six matches left in the season, we’ll see how that shakes out, but signs are extremely positive in that regard.

Rusnak is not as connective a player, certainly, and it does seem he’s more likely to spend less time with the ball than Morales did. That’s made an impact on a playing style, because we’re now more likely to get the ball forward and wide than at any point in recent memory. The influence of Joao Plata and Jefferson Savarino in those positions has been a differentiator.

What’s similar?

Both players are very capable with the ball at their feet, and there’s a certain sort of magic that both are likely to produce at any given moment. Both have shown they can score from distance, and both have absolutely shown they possess unreal vision.

Over the next few years, should Rusnak remain — here’s hoping — we may get a chance to compare the two more completely. At this point, we can show that Rusnak is as productive or more so than Morales, but hopefully we will get a chance to ask if he can come anywhere close to the cultural impact the Maestro had on Real Salt Lake.