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The Salt: RSL struggles to finish, but Rusnak and Putna give us hope — and a win

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What a difference 90 minutes can make.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Houston Dynamo Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Saturday. 8:30 p.m. or so. I’m thinking about what I’m going to write in The Salt this week, and I was thrown for a wild loop.

As were we all.

At 8:30, I was expecting to be salty about a lot. We looked inefficacious on the road again, and good grief, I was just done. We were creating chances left, right and center, but I bet you were right there with me in a complete and utter lack of belief that we’d get something out of our match against Houston Dynamo.

It continued one of my least favorite trends in Real Salt Lake history: being bad in Texas. (If Austin does join MLS, that’s a potential nine points a year, so let’s see if we can stop being bad in Texas. Also, Save the Crew.)

Finishing school

Our finishing was miserable.

So bad.

In the 92nd minute, we’d taken 23 shots and scored exactly none of them. In the 93rd minute, that went up to 1 in 24, then in the 100th minute, it went up to 2 in 25.

I will absolutely not complain about the finish, and I’m not complaining about the outcome. But I will complain about our lack of finishing. Look at the tweet above. Look at it.

Those big circles? Those are goals we probably should have scored. The little ones are less likely to be scored. The big ones, though? AH.

OK.

Enough about that. We know we have problems. Are we doing what we can to fix them?

I actually think that, for the most part, it’s down to the players. We need them in the right mindset for finishing. We have some good finishers on our team, and there’s some underperforming there. We needed somebody to step up and finish. Someone who had played in big, important matches.

That someone? Albert Rusnak.

Of course it was.

Albert Rusnak and Wayne Rooney

Young Albert Rusnak, the 24-year-old mastermind of so many good things for Real Salt Lake, was angry at halftime, and that’s something you’ll see people talk about.

Sure, that was great. I loved his fire. But you know what? It didn’t actually solve the problem. What solved the problem was him taking the game on and trying to make a difference.

We absolutely need more of that as the season progresses. We have eight games remaining, and we will need points on the road if we want to have a chance in the playoffs. If Rusnak continues to step up, the effect that has will be massive.

See, it’s not just about Rusnak. Let’s diverge from the point for a moment. Wayne Rooney has come into MLS and joined a D.C. United team that hadn’t put together more than two matches without a loss all season. Shortly after Rooney’s arrival, DC has gone five matches undefeated.

But is Wayne Rooney’s mere presence on the pitch and his play the reason they’re succeeding? I’d wager not. No one player can do that on their own. Instead, the argument goes, he’s elevated the team and kept the team performing in a different way. He keeps the team honest and forces them to work harder to match his play.

It’s a big task, and I’ll be honest: I thought Rooney was going to be a low-impact player in MLS. I thought he’d be closer to his brother, John Rooney, than to an impact signing. But his work ethic and attitude has been a benefit to D.C. United.

Do you need a signing for that to happen? I actually don’t think so. If Rusnak can step up and provide an example of that ethos, I do think he can do the same thing. One late road win doesn’t solve that, obviously, but it can be the start of a positive trend.

In that way, I think a prominent player being unsettled can have a similar effect, and I think we saw some of that with Albert Rusnak’s contract disputes earlier in the summer. While that seems to be largely over — I expect a new contract will be announced at some point — it can’t have had a distinctly positive effect when your star player isn’t happy. Maybe he continued putting in the work, but it’s as much about attitude as it is anything.

In one way, Rusnak putting in that shift and winning that game — not single-handedly, of course, but you can’t dispute his impact — speaks more than any training session could. We’ve long been in need of players that can step up and win games for us, and Rusnak should always have been one of them.

Will he inspire others? I hope so. I really hope so.

Andrew Putna...?

OK! So Nick Rimando took to injury, and that left us with Andrew Putna as our starting goalkeeper, maybe for an extended period. We’ll see. I was nervous, but you know what? I feel so much less nervous than I would have without Real Monarchs. I know we’ve talked a lot on this site about what Real Monarchs should be, but I do think we’ve gotten a lot out of the team where goalkeepers are concerned. Let’s not look past that.

Andrew Putna was super great on Saturday, making two incredibly important saves that kept us in the game. I don’t care if Nick Rimando would have or wouldn’t have, because frankly, he wasn’t there. Our fourth-string goalkeeper was.

Fourth string. Wow. Let’s hope he doesn’t get injured, too.

The other stuff

WILL JOSEF MARTINEZ PLEASE STOP SCORING SO MANY GOALS? It’s making me jealous.

WILL I FINISH A BOOK THIS WEEK? Probably. I’m reading a Star Trek novel, Avatar. Go ahead. Judge me.

WHAT ABOUT A GAME? DID YOU DECIDE ON A GAME? I did not. Golf Story still haunts me.

AND HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING TO MUCH MUSIC SIR? Not too much. I’ve been listening to Low. They’re great.

WHAT ABOUT TV? What about it? I’ve been watching some. Like I said last week, I’m watching Deep Space Nine.

WHAT ABOUT BOARD GAMES? Oh! So I played this game, Megaland, last night. It’s a press-your-luck game. You play as a character in a video game trying to make it through a level to collect treasure. Why a video game? I don’t know, but it’s a fun setting. Anyway, it’s supposed to take about 20 minutes, but it took us an hour with rules explanations, so there’s that discrepancy I’m thinking about. Still, I’d recommend it, especially because it’s from a local company, Red Raven Games, and local designers, Ryan and Malorie Laukat.

DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY? No, but thanks for asking, myself.