Rubio Rubin and I are about the same age, and I still remember when he got called into the U.S. Men’s National Team camps as an 18-year-old in 2014. After questioning my life choices and reconciling with the fact that I probably never would have been a good enough soccer player to go pro, I watched and admired him as he made his USMNT debut.
Over the next seven years, he wandered from club to club in Europe and Mexico, never finding consistent playing time until he joined up with the San Diego Loyal of the USL for the second half of 2020, where, under head coach Landon Donovan, he found his footing and started banging in goals.
He then signed with Real Salt Lake in 2021 and had by far his best season of his career. Over the course of 34 games played (25 starts), he bagged eight goals and five assists, proving to be one of the most productive attackers for RSL in 2021. He also won the 2021 AT&T MLS Goal of the Year for his bicycle kick goal that he scored in May in a home loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Not too shabby.
2021 was also an important year for Rubin because for the first time in his career, he found a stable club situation. In July, Rubin signed a contract extension that will keep him in Salt Lake through 2024 with a club option for 2025. It’s clear that RSL values him and sees him as part of their long term plans in the #9 position that they’ve struggled with for so long.
It’s expected this year that he will be battling for the starting spot at forward with Bobby Wood, who was injured for most of 2021, but according to coaching staff is fully fit and ready to go for the 2022 season. Rubin, though, will be working his way back from a surgery this offseason, so don’t expect him to be fully fit and starting at the beginning of the season like he was last year. Even with his probable delayed start to the 2022 season, I still expect him to see regular minutes this year.
Another interesting thing about Rubin is that he’s brought a large amount of attention to RSL from Guatemala this year. Rumors have been flying for months that he will file a one-time switch to play for the Guatemalan national team, and much of Guatemala has been watching him intently. If you engage with RSL socials on Facebook, you’ll likely see at least a couple of Guatemalan flags in the comments on posts that involve Rubin, and according to Mark McClure, the Senior Director of Digital Content/User Experience for MLS, his fans in Guatemala helped Rubin win the fan vote for Goal of the Year:
Regardless of what he decides to do with his international career, Rubin has shown his quality in 2021 and will be a valuable piece of the roster moving forward for RSL. I’m looking forward to this year as the first time in years that we’ll have true competition at the #9 position between two players that actually play that position (sorry Luis Silva), and I hope for another excellent year from Rubio Rubin.