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Pablo Mastroeni talks Rusnak, Julio, new players and more on El Show RSL

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We finally got Mastroeni on our Spanish-language show, and he had some insights to for what to expect in 2022

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

We at El Show RSL have been patiently working with RSL communications staff to interview Pablo Mastroeni ever since he was announced to be the permanent head coach. We wanted to talk to him about what everyone else was talking about at the time, which was mostly just the playoff run, but having these extra weeks to prepare for this interview got us focusing on other things, like the Rusnak departure drama and general pre-season shenanigans, and we had a very insightful conversation with him about what 2022 RSL is going to look like. Because of how insightful it was for me and others, and with a little nudge from Lucas, I figured it would be beneficial to summarize the more interesting aspects of this interview in English for the general enjoyment of RSL fankind. If you’d rather listen to our conversation in Spanish than read this summary, you can do that here:

So, without further ado, here are the most interesting and important things that Pablo Mastroeni told us that you might not otherwise have known because you don’t speak Spanish.

Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood’s Statuses

These aren’t so much talking points as they are news updates. Part of the reason Bobby Wood wasn’t playing very much last year was because he was struggling with injuries that lingered throughout the season. According to Pablo, Bobby is now fully healthy and ready to be a key part of the team to start the season. That begs the question, why is Rubio Rubin not the key player considering how well he did last year? Well, Pablo told us that Rubio was playing through an abductor injury for the last part of the year and had surgery on it recently. He’s going to be out for about six weeks recovering, so Wood’s going to be the go-to guy for the start of the year. Here’s to a quick and complete recovery Rubio! I will say though, that it will be nice to see fully fit Bobby Wood playing for the first time in an RSL jersey.

Out of Contract Players

Albert Rusnak

I can only assume that if you’re here at the Soapbox reading this, you probably know that Albert Rusnak is not going to be an RSL player in 2022. If you didn’t know, you can read more about it HERE. Since we already knew he wasn’t coming back we asked about what the team is going to do without him. The first thing he talked about was MLS Free Agency, which is something I don’t think was brought up much in Twitter and Facebook discussions about Albert. “The player is free. He can negotiate with the other clubs in the league…The player has the power now. And with that come issues surrounding salary, personal life, and in Albert’s case…he’s probably going to end up at a new club. And unfortunately that’s soccer.” Note: he did say that Albert will “probably” be at a new club for 2022, but don’t read too much into that.

Later we asked Pablo about the need to replace him. Here’s what he said about their efforts to replace Rusnak: “We’re looking all over the world, but in world soccer, January isn’t the preferred time to be looking for a player. That’s because in the rest of the world, they finish their season in the summer. But we need a key player now, and most of the players of that level have contracts that end in May. So, it’s going to be really difficult [to find a replacement now]. We’re also looking to see if maybe we can bring someone in on loan who’s not getting playing time with big clubs. But we might just have to wait for the summer. Even so, we spend every day talking to agents from all over the world from clubs all over the world and hopefully we can find that player.” I’ll talk a little more about the type of player RSL is looking for to replace Rusnak a little later, but this might be a situation where we don’t have the quality of player we want exactly when we want him. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Anderson Julio

Anderson is in an interesting situation with his contract at the moment. It was easy to forget at times, but he was only here on loan for the 2021 season. This is what Pablo said about the option to buy Anderson from his team in Mexico: “We’re in a position right now where we are negotiating between the two clubs (RSL and San Luis) about keeping Anderson here for next year. Negotiations are very delicate. And sometimes they take some time, more than what we’d like, but the objective in this case is that we want to keep Anderson here and he wants to come back. So, we’re really hoping that Anderson will be with us for next year.”

For me, that mostly shot down the rumors that have been floating around saying that Anderson wasn’t coming back and that he’s probably going to Pachuca. This also helped:

Sebastian Carrillo is an Univision reporter who said, “I spoke with Anderson Julio and he said that neither he nor his agent knew about the supposed interest from Pachuca. As of now he hasn’t been contacted by them.” So there’s still a chance that Julio will be back, but it’s still up in the air.

Everton Luiz

We completely forgot to ask Pablo about Everton, but fortunately Pablo brought him up all on his own! Pablo didn’t have much to say in regards to his contract status apart from “we want him back and we’re working with him on that.” He did say, though, that having Everton back is important in maintaining a strong presence in the center of the field. He noted how the Western Conference final was a very different game without him since he was suspended, and I agree 100% and hope he comes back too. I like Nick Besler as a game closer, however I have no desire to be put in a position where he is our #1 CDM going into the beginning of the season.

What Types of Players Does Pablo Want?

This is Pablo’s offseason to build a team, but he wasn’t given an optimal situation do that. He mentioned that the best case scenario would have been to not make the playoffs so he could start focusing on building his roster sooner. But because the team made a fantastic run to the Western Conference Final, and then it took another week for him to get his interim tag removed, he couldn’t get an early start to start build out his roster. As he said in his earlier quote about replacing Rusnak from earlier, January’s not the best time to go and get foreign players to bolster the roster, and a lot of his window for in-league transfers closed because of postseason time restraints. But he did talk about the types of players he is targeting: a left winger, a defensive midfielder, and a left back.

“Hold on a sec,” you might be wondering, “I thought he said he was looking for an Albert replacement? None of those positions fit what the #11 at RSL has traditionally played,” and you’re right. When we asked him if he wants to find a true attacking and creative center midfielder he said no, for two reasons. The first is that a traditional #10 doesn’t fit how he wants to play. The second is that he already has his guy to play in the center attacking midfield role, and that’s Damir Kreilach. This works in formation because Pablo plans on playing a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1/4-1-2-3, which I’ll illustrate below.

4-2-3-1
4-1-4-1 or 4-1-2-3

Pablo said the way they want to play Kreilach works perfectly into these systems, without the need of a traditional creative center midfielder like we’ve had in the past. This means we’re looking to replace Albert with a winger. “We’re looking for a winger who can come inside sometimes, but has a dynamic profile and is fast. I think our team needed that this year. Anderson Julio was the player who gave us that speed and I think that is the type of player we’re looking for.”

In regards to getting a defensive midfielder, Pablo basically said this is a priority because we learned last year that just having Everton wasn’t enough. When Everton was out due to injury or suspension, there was a major drop off in that position, which needs to be changed. He’s looking for the kind of player that can pair in a two-man center midfield like we’ve grown accustomed to seeing at RSL, but can also hold his own if he were put in a lone CDM formation like the one shown above. This is another “we’ll see what happens here” situation because of the difficult January trade window Pablo has to work with, but expect to see movement in this position.

One more note. We interviewed Pablo before the Jude Wellings and Julio Benitez signings were announced. I don’t think either of them is going to be that guy immediately, so expect at least one more defensive midfielder to come into the squad this year.

The left back need is simple: we don’t have any right now. All three of our left-footed left backs were let go at the end of the season. Andrew Brody played there for most of 2021, but he’s naturally a right-sided player and Pablo made it clear that he wants left-footed players available to play in that position. So, he wants a left-footed player who can compete with Brody on that side.

Playoff Loss at Portland

Another point of conversation was about the Western Conference Final loss against the Portland Timbers, and specifically about why he chose to play Rusnak after his return from being out with COVID. The short version of Pablo’s answer was that it was a really hard decision to make. He brought it down to two options: you play your captain who says he’s ready to go, or you keep doing what you’ve been doing. His reasoning in choosing to play Rusnak was that he trusted Rusnak was ready to play, and that his quality would come out in the attack, but he recognized it was probably not the right choice, and especially with Everton’s defensive presence missing because of his suspension, Rusnak wasn’t able to make much of an impact.

I hope this was insightful for you all! Carlos and I are hoping to have more great content this year on El Show RSL, and we hope you enjoy it too. For all of you who don’t speak Spanish, if we have any important news to break from our interviews, I will post them in English on Twitter from my personal account @someRSLfan and I’ll share it on the El Show RSL Facebook page. And if it’s big enough to write an article about, I’ll be here. ¡Vamos Real!