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Two winners, three losers from RSL in MLS is Back

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MLS: Real Salt Lake vs San Jose Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s foray into mid-pandemic soccer produced — at best — mixed results, and while some players were impressive and showed they deserved more minutes, others will not be remembered so fondly.

Here are five players that stood out for me in this tournament — some of them in good ways, others in ways I’d prefer to forget.

Loser: Zac MacMath

We have been spoiled and blessed by outstanding goalkeeping for a decade, and it was perhaps inevitable that any goalkeeper would prove a disappointment after Nick Rimando. But Zac MacMath was error-prone in some truly unfortunate ways. His distribution was poor (he can certainly kick the ball long, though), his shot-stopping was adequate, and he made some crucial errors that cost RSL in a knockout round.

Coming into the tournament, the goalkeeper spot was MacMath’s to lose. Now, it seems he might be on the outside looking in — whenever play resumes. It will be hard to justify giving him a starting position with two capable backups, one of whom is a budding star in David Ochoa.

Winner: Douglas Martinez

Douglas Martinez scored is first goal for Real Salt Lake in this tournament, and he was a major factor in the club winning their only match of the tournament. Martinez is fast, yes, and he’s good on the ball, but he also makes smart runs and will scrap for possession. I started the tournament wondering why he was starting over the other options we have, and I ended this tournament knowing. He’s hardly the finished product, but if this is anything to go on, Martinez might well be an answer to one of our biggest problems.

Loser: Albert Rusnak

It is perhaps not surprising to you, dear reader, that I have placed Rusnak in this column. I haven’t been a fan of his play for a good year or so, and while I think part of that is that he was continually bypassed under Mike Petke, I am starting to think there’s something bigger going on here.

Rusnak is a puzzling figure. He has incredible vision and skill, but his application is extremely poor. There was a particular sequence in tonight’s match in which he wasn’t so much bypassed or played around, but he was nonetheless making runs that didn’t add to the run of play. It happened three or four times in a sequence, and it ended with him standing on the sideline waiting to take a throw-in that Aaron Herrera picked up and threw himself. It was illustrative, for me, of the problem. He is lost in this team, and I don’t think there’s any chance he’s recoverable.

If Albert Rusnak can’t manage more than 19 passes in a match in which RSL needs creative play — even if his passing percentage is reasonably good — then we have a player that doesn’t fit our system.

I’m also not big on talking about players “not caring,” because I usually think there’s something hampering the player — injury concerns, poor coaching, poor tactical approaches — anything on the field, really. But what we have seen repeatedly is that Albert Rusnak can’t be bothered to press reliably, that he will move into positions that remove responsibility from his play and not add, and will disappear in big games.

For a player making more than anyone else at Real Salt Lake, that’s a huge problem. He has had opportunity after opportunity to be an involved player, and he has squandered those opportunities. My patience has run out. This is a player that can lay claim to being RSL’s “most talented” player. He has a great pedigree. He has played at big teams. He has won trophies. But when it comes down to it,Albert Rusnak is not a player helping Real Salt Lake.

Winner: Pablo Ruiz

On a more positive note, I have been steadily impressed by Pablo Ruiz this tournament. When he left for the Austrian third division’s FC Pinzgau Saafelden on loan, I was convinced that we’d seen the last of him. He was actively hurting RSL’s play at the time, and he wasn’t good enough to earn minutes. He had a very successful loan there, but he eventually was forced to return — I believe for a work visa issue, though I’m not 100 percent there — and his time at Real Salt Lake resumed.

I was completely unconvinced heading into the tournament. But nearly every minute he played, I saw a young player acting as a creative force. I saw a player who had real potential. It was refreshing, and it’s a great example of what being patient with a younger player can do for their career. (To be fair, I think he’s under a much better coach, and I don’t think he was coached particularly well under the screams of Mike Petke.)

Loser: Kyle Beckerman

It will be a sad day when Kyle Beckerman hangs up the boots. There can be no doubt about it. He has been one of the most influential players for this club during his tenure. He has shaped our identity.

But 2020 is not his year. He left the first match with an injury, and he left our fourth match with a red card and a conceded penalty. (I mean, sort of. It’s not really fair to describe it as ‘leaving the match’ when the whistle had blown, but I guess that’s really an academic distinction.)

I don’t know that this means that Beckerman should have retired or some such — I do think he still has value for this team, if we play again in 2020 — but it’s clear that he’s lost more than a step.

Problematically, though, it’s also clear that we don’t really have a player who can do what he does. He’s still a good passer, and he generally plays progressively. He also reads the game better than most players. I really think he could be a great tactical coach, if he decided to go that direction after his playing career ends.

But for now, in this weird tournament, Kyle Beckerman was just a shadow of his former self.