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Five winners and one loser from RSL’s 2-0 win over LA Galaxy

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Albert Rusnak was really good. He wasn’t the only one.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Winner: Damir Kreilach

That goal was nice. He could have had another.

I am usually skeptical of Damir Kreilach leading the line. This isn’t because he lacks the requisite finishing ability — I actually think he’d get similar goal counts from an attacking midfield position, and his runs would be similar — but because it usually means we don’t have anybody stretching the line.

I don’t think we answered for that tonight, but I do think Kreilach had a nice game, all the same. I also think he’s probably our sanest option there, save maybe Corey Baird, but we’ll get to that.

Part of the reason Kreilach works well there is that he’ll put intelligent pressure on the defenders — not game-winning pressure, mind you, as no one player can do that on their own (except peak Everton Luiz, I guess.) He plays the position with his head, which is appropriate because he is tall and a good header of the ball.

Winner: Albert Rusnak

I have been critical of Albert Rusnak for some time now, but the second half — essentially, from his penalty forward — we saw a completely changed player. There was a certain level of energy present we’d sorely missed, and his pass in to Damir Kreilach (a recreation of one Nedum Onuoha made not long before that) was crisp, smart and clever.

Rusnak turned this match on its head, and it’s something he can absolutely do when he’s on. Let’s see more of that.

Loser: Corey Baird

I am consistently confused by Corey Baird, who goes from being a goalscoring threat to a red-card risk ... at least seven times a match. He’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest.

All that said, his passing wasn’t great tonight, and it was the sort passes that went astray. Baird has a lot top offer this team, but I’m constantly wondering which Corey Baird we’re going to see at any given time.

Winner: Everton Luiz

This was such a huge game for Everton Luiz. 2020 has been far from his year, and I’d argue he’s been one of the worst players on the field in the last few matches he’s played. It’s not the sort of thing you like to see from a player who, just last season, was one of the best on the field in essentially every match he played.

It really was such a huge performance for Everton, and if we can see a bit more of that, I think we’ll be in a good spot. Here’s something from RSL coach Freddy Juarez after the match that reflects my thoughts a great deal.

“We hadn’t seen Everton play his best soccer this season, and we challenged him.”

So, yeah. It worked.

Winner: Pablo Ruiz

He wasn’t flashy. He didn’t try spectacular shots from distance. (In fact, he didn’t try any shots at all.) He wasn’t even a great tackler, with just one of three successful on the night. But Pablo Ruiz was the heartbeat of this team, maintaining possession from a spot deep in the midfield with real grace. I am increasingly convinced of the realness of Pablo Ruiz’s skill and potential with this team.

This is going way too far, but performances like this one give credence to the thought that he could be Kyle Beckerman’s long-term replacement at this club. Obviously, any statement like that is packed with too many unknowns to really be an accurate predictor, but the way he plays the game — minus the tackles and general mouthiness — is similar. Simple passes on the ground, a great shot from distance here or there (remember how we called them Beckerbombs back when they happened once or twice a season?), and a calmness in possession that sets the tempo.

Albert Rusnak was the star of this game, but I’d argue that Pablo Ruiz was the heart. (Of course, it also helped that Everton Luiz was a good enforcer around him — it also reinforces my belief that Luiz is not a Beckerman replacement, but a Beckerman complement. Or whoever plays in that spot, really.)

Winner: Nedum Onuoha

After last match, when Nedum Onuoha came forward with the ball, lost it, and RSL conceded, you’d understand if he had a little less attacking ambition. (Personally, I think he was to blame for maaaaybe about 10% of that goal — the lack of defensive help when he moved forward was startling, and it led directly to a concession.) Instead, he was an attacking force at smart moments, and he nearly had an assist after flying up the left wing.

It’s very strange seeing a center back making a run and a pass in that position. It is also very exciting, and it feels very much intentional from a tactical perspective.