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2019 RSL Player Profiles: Albert Rusnák

Highest paid player in RSL history had a tepid season

MLS: MLS Cup Conference Semifinals-Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Fan Player Rating: 6.16

RSL Soapbox Player Rating: 6.17

This is not an Albert Rusnák hate piece, but I want to be honest about some things. Albert did not have a good 2019. Where much is given much is expected, and after negotiating the largest salary in club history during the 2018 season Albert did very little to convince me he is worth it. Is Albert talented? Undeniably so. But if you want to be the man you have to deal with the pressures and expectations that come with it.

Let me justify my position a little using what evidences that I can. First and foremost Albert plays as our central-attacking midfielder. His responsibility is to create offense for everyone around him through key passes, controlling tempo, holding up play when needed or playing someone through into a dangerous area. It absolutely helps if he scores goals too, but in my opinion if your CAM is your leading scorer each year there are some systematic issues with your offense. Not all of those issues are the fault of Albert, he should have a more consistent and better suited forward to pair with week in and week out and he hasn’t had that. So I will cut him some slack as that’s on the FO and the coaching staff.

Javier was great, but a big reason why he was great is that he had a consistent rotation of true forwards to deliver the ball to e.g. Saborío, Espíndola, Findley and Movsisyan. So before you kill me for saying Albert underperformed, I want to acknowledge that Albert had two academy guys in Baird and Bofo, a midfielder converted to play forward in Kreilach, and Savarino. There were brief moments with Sam Johnson but not enough to establish a true connection.

Okay, so he serves as the engine of Prius more so than a Mustang but hopefully that changes during this offseason.

So here is my big heartburn with Albert, he had only 5 assists this year. He finished tied for first with the likes of Kyle Beckerman, Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino. Cool, he finished tied for first, not cool that we are still talking about only 5 assists total with not a single one of them being a game winning assist. No, not one.

In 2018 he finished 4th on the team in assists with 7, but with only one single game winning assist. Let that sink in for a moment, in the last 2 seasons our prized CAM, our highest paid player in club history has provided a single game winning assist. Some will argue that it is because of the system he plays in, I think that has something to do with it, but I don’t think in anyway it excuses the numbers.

Albert burst onto the scene in 2017 with 14 assists, 5 of which were game winners. At that time his A/90min (assists per 90 minutes) was a solid 0.49. In 2019 that dropped to a paltry 0.18 A/90min, which puts him right below the likes of Nick Besler, Erik Holt, and Bofo Saucedo.

Kevin Minkus, a data scientist and soccer analyst for Analysis Evolved put RSL’s woes, of which Albert is a part, into perspective at the close of last season.

Real Salt Lake has missed that final killer ball for years now, and I am not convinced that Albert is the guy to rectify it. You can blame Petke, you can blame the system, you can even blame Albert being miscast. After all, he doesn’t even play midfield for his home country, he plays as a winger. Whatever the case may be, something will need to change in order for RSL to take that next step towards another trophy.

Delving into this issue a little further, you can find on American Soccer Analysis the breakdown of a stat known as Player xPassing. I highly recommend you read the description of this stat found here. For the sake of length, the TL;DR is that this metric gives us the likelihood that a players pass to another teammate will be successful. Albert is admittedly a solid passer in the middle and attacking thirds, out performing his expected passing success rate. He completes a lot of passes, even passes that have a low probability of completion. But that only tells part of the story.

Of the 34 CAM’s that are being analyzed on the website’s table, only 8 of those players have a negative vertical pass average in the attacking third. Meaning, that 26 of the 34 CAM’s, when playing a pass in the attacking half, pass the ball forward. Albert does not. He averages a -0.37 yards per pass in the attacking half. Albert’s average pass while in the attacking third is a pass backwards, not forwards. It isn’t a sample size issue either, this is on 471 passes that Albert made in the attacking third in 2019. So on 471 passes made in the attacking third, he average to pass backward by 1 foot across the entirety of the season. For contrast, the best CAM in the whole league at vertical passing was Darwin Quintero at 6.35 yards passed forward per completed attempt.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t supposed to turn into a big dive into passing analytics so I will only say one more thing. If you look at CAM vertical passing across all 3 thirds of the field (attacking, middle and defensive) Rusnak’s average vertical passing is 0.88. Meaning that anywhere on the field, regardless of where he receives the ball, he will on average pass the ball forward by less than a single yard (2.6 feet to be exact). Translation, a ton of horizontal balls out to the touchlines. I think a part of the blame is the system that has asked him to push everything wide, so Freddy needs to rethink this as well. But the reality of the numbers is this, Albert completes a lot of passes, but they are conservative passes that go horizontal, not vertical. Albert does not move the ball forward in the attacking third, he actually moves the ball backward in that area.

Alright, I am done. There is a lot more we could discuss on this. We haven’t even touched xGoals or xG Chain, or how many of Albert’s team leading goals came on PK’s that someone else earned. We’ll leave that for another day. My parting thought is this, something is not working. We are either misusing our CAM, or Albert isn’t the right fit for the role. Either way, change is needed in 2020.