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Looking back: The transition from Javier Morales to Albert Rusnak

Two years removed from a monumental decision, we are looking at the impact of replacing Javier Morales with Albert Rúsnak.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

In light of Albert Rúsnak signing his new DP deal with RSL making him the highest paid player in club history, and being now two years removed from club legend Javier Morales leaving the team, we are looking back on what that transition meant then and now.

First, let me get this out of the way: Javier Morales is and will always be a legend at RSL. There is nothing that Albert Rúsnak or any other player for that matter can do to diminish Javi’s impact for the club. He was at the center of the most successful years in RSL history and it doesn’t matter one iota what Rúsnak gets paid, if he doesn’t bring us an MLS trophy he will in my opinion not be on the same level of legends status as Javier Morales.

Good; now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about then and now and how Craig Waibel put it all out on the line in order to make a transition that at the time hurt, but is now the best thing that could’ve happened for the club.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Javi, then

Javier Morales spent 10 glorious seasons at RSL; during that time he amassed 49 goals and 81 assists for the club. He is still the all-time assists leader for the club to this day. However, 2016 was a tough year for Javi. Despite playing in 29 games for the Claret and Cobalt, he was only able to muster four goals and four assists in the main playmaking role. Javier had only two other seasons with lower assists totals. In 2007, he joined the club mid-season and only played seven games while notching two assists, and in 2011, he broke his ankle after registering three assists on 10 games played.

The decreased production in 2016, along with a loss of physical speed on the field, didn’t bode well for RSL. It became increasingly difficult for the RSL midfield to cover enough ground to both get forward in the attack and recover on defense. The result: a lack of offensive punch, or defensive coverage depending on the swing of the game.

A decision was made as the season reached the later stages. I won’t speculate on whether it was intentional to bench Javier in the dying embers of the season to avoid starting him 24 times which would’ve automatically renewed his contract. I also won’t speculate as to whether he was made an offer to stay, but chose not to due to a decrease in wages or a possible off-the-bench role. We all know the end result. Javier was gone, and gone abruptly and painfully.

A short time after the season ended Javier held his own press conference and farewell gathering to announce his departure from the club and the city. Fans were heartbroken and pissed. Many took to social media to call for the terminations of Craig Waibel and Jeff Cassar. There was a small, less vocal minority who waited with anticipation to see where the club would go from here, hoping that it meant we would go younger and faster.

Albert Rúsnak, now

Albert seemed to be the polar opposite of Javier. He was very young in comparison, from Europe and not South America, and preferred to get the ball off his feet quickly unlike Javier who wanted to keep it and dribble it up field as much as possible. There were glimmers that this could be the CAM of the future. Like Javier, Albert had played in Europe; unlike Javier, it had been for the fabled Manchester City youth academy.

His signing didn’t come without its fair share of skepticism. Any time you replace a club legend, you will be held to a high standard, whether that is fair or not. However, despite the big shoes to fill, Albert wasted no time acclimating to his surroundings and becoming an immediate leader on the team.

In his first full season, 2017, he amassed seven goals and 14 assists. With a total of 21 combined goals and assists, Albert in his first season tied Javier’s best season ever at RSL, 2008 and 2014 when he also had 21 total goals and assists.

I don’t think as a fan base we have stopped to appreciate that. A young foreigner in Albert was able to reproduce Javi Morales’s best season in just one year with the club.

With three games left, not including playoffs, Albert currently sits at 17 goals and assists (10 goals and seven assists). He could very well replicate Javier Morales’s second best season ever of 20 combined goals and assists back in 2015.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Conclusion

Change can be hard. It is made even harder when you have to say goodbye to such a great person and player like Javier Morales. The club and its GM knew they had a tall task when it came time to replace a club legend like Javi. To stand and take the heat of the fanbase at a time when fans couldn’t imagine a match without Morales in it.

They should be commended for who they found and what he has done for RSL in such a short time. It is no wonder that Albert Rúsnak is now the highest paid player in club history. My only hope is that Craig and company can replicate that same success when it comes time replace the remaining legends on the team, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando. That time will soon come, and it will be painful to say goodbye. It will certainly soften the blow though if we can find more players of the caliber of Albert Rúsnak.

Was letting Javi go the right decision? Will Albert eclipse Javi in RSL lore? Tell us what you think!