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The Salt: Making heads or tails of Rusnak rumors

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Will RSL’s captain be leaving for Seattle? Who knows. But let’s talk about our feelings.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

If you, like me, are still reeling a bit at the news breaking today that Albert Rusnak is the potential target of an offer from Seattle Sounders — well, hello. Welcome. It’s a weird one, and you are not the only one thinking it’s a bit off.

Let’s actually investigate our feelings here through a series of questions. I don’t know if your questions echo mine. It’s OK if they don’t. Of course, you won’t get to have your questions answered in this article if they’re not the same as mine. Those are the rules. Sorry.

So, uh, why?

You know, I wish I knew that. I really do that. I understand some potential motivations, of course. Seattle is a nice place to live, and it does rain a lot. There’s something very appealing there. There’s also less uncertainty around the club, and I could see that being appealing. It’s not everything, of course. And we do have the promise of reduced uncertainty soon.

Rusnak’s situation is absolutely a unique one at Real Salt Lake. He’s the only player above the TAM threshold, so he’s the only player in our ranks that must be registered as a designated player. That makes Jeremiah Oshan’s reporting over at Sounder at Heart all the more confusing: See, he’s saying Sounders would like to sign Rusnak on a TAM-level contract, meaning Rusnak would take a pretty substantial pay cut — something over $400,000. (The confusing part is not the reporting, to be clear. It’s the intention of the club and, potentially, the player.)

There are some potential scenarios that make sense. Rusnak could join on a TAM-level deal that escalates into DP-level territory after a year, for one. It could be a contract that carries a strong second or third year incentive. It might even be the sort of thing where he receives a percentage of a sell-on fee, although I don’t know that MLS deals with contracts in such a manner.

The why remains the hardest part to figure out. The big why, for me: Why has Elliot Fall been largely bullish on re-signing Rusnak?

What’s the mechanism at play here?

Oh, it’s free agency. The 2020 collective bargaining agreement allows designated players above the maximum salary budget charge to enter into free agency, so that part’s actually pretty clear. (If this was 2019, Rusnak would not have been eligible for free agency. This is evidence of progress in the league’s rules and negotiations, even if it does put us in an awkward position.)

Because of free agency, Real Salt Lake could lose out on Rusnak simply because he’d rather leave. I get it. I don’t know if that’s why, or if it’ll happen. But I get it.

Why can’t RSL just, you know, pay the man?

This one gets tricky. Indications are that the league has said they’ll support RSL in re-signing Rusnak as a designated player, despite the lack of an owner. This seems likely to be down to the league having some sort of working agreement with whoever will enter into ownership of Real Salt Lake eventually. There may be limits to that understanding, I don’t know.

Is this actually happening?

I don’t know.

But … will it?

I still don’t know. I’m no oracle.

What do you think will happen?

You know, the old saying is that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. There is absolutely smoke here — while we don’t know the sourcing on any of this reporting, I trust Jeremiah Oshan’s reporting. That obviously doesn’t mean this will happen. None of this is evidence that anything will happen, only that parties are working toward it. As we’ve seen so often over the last year at Real Salt Lake, something being close doesn’t really mean anything until it’s done.

But if you’re wondering if I think the reporting is accurate, then I’d say yes, I am inclined to think it’s accurate.

Is it a good thing?

It could be. It probably isn’t. I know I was a detractor of Rusnak’s in the early season, but he clearly improved and was a differentiator — l don’t think there’s any use denying that. Whatever you think of how we got there, we catered to his skillset, and it generally worked in his favor from a statistical perspective.

I guess not having Rusnak means we won’t need to see the hyper-attacking 3-5-2 again (I’m sure we will, but I won’t be pleased about it.)

Will we need a replacement for Rusnak?

You know, I actually don’t know that we will. Not a like-for-like. Kreilach is probably best as a 10, with flexibility to make runs into the box, and we clearly intend to keep him around. Let’s play to his strengths.

We need improvement in plenty of areas — especially the midfield — and I think we’re likely to see a revamp there. We might even see a much bigger rebuild under new ownership, depending on what that looks like. Under all that, I don’t see a direct need for a like-for-like replacement. I could be wrong.

What to expect when your captain leaves for a rival

Chaos. Pure, unadulterated chaos.