One was in the visiting Rave Green, as Slovakian international midfielder Albert Rusnak, who had 11g/11a a year ago, started for the visitors after signing in free agency this past January. Rusnak, RSL’s former captain, was booed by sections of supporters with every touch and during his 66th-minute exit.
Current captain Damir Kreilach remains in Utah, of course, looking to build upon a career year of 16g/9a that sparked a Western Conference Final run in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. But the 32-year-old missed out with a calf injury, resting ahead of next weekend’s visit to defending Supporters’ Shield winners New England Revolution, hoping to put the preseason knock in the rearview mirror.
Neither situation posed too much of a problem to RSL, which won 1-0 behind Bobby Wood’s goal in the 46th minute, rising above a two-hour weather delay (lightning, snow) to maintain their strong form against Seattle.
“I think once the team realized that Damir was going to be unavailable for the game, we banded together even more,” said goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who made four saves. “Starting with Pablo [Mastroeni] and the mentality that he always speaks of; we embodied that and no one flinched. Everyone was like, ‘Alright, let’s go, let's prove ourselves.’”
With the victory, RSL are now 11 games unbeaten against Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium, a run stretching back to 2013. In the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs a year ago, RSL also beat Seattle at Lumen Field in penalty kicks after not registering a single shot attempt.
It’s uncanny dominance, in Utah and sometimes beyond, that bucks national perceptions considering the budgets and profile of players involved at the clubs. The dynamic also reinforces the importance of the collective for RSL, who were without other standouts like goalkeeper David Ochoa, defender Aaron Herrera and forward Rubio Rubin aside from Kreilach.
“I think piggybacking off of what we did last year, guys that came onto the field at times had a greater impact on the results of the game,” Mastroeni said. “So when we talk about the team, we talk about the importance of the players who are not starting. And at times they are more important than the guys who are starting. I think a lot of times in sports it’s always you think about the guys who got to start, I like to think about it in reverse sometimes.”
As unheralded depth shines for RSL, they’re still getting key offseason acquisition Sergio Cordova caught up to speed. The Venezuelan international forward is on loan from German Bundesliga side FC Augsburg, earning a combined 45 substitute minutes so far.
“Sergio is a player that is still gaining his fitness,” Mastroeni said. “I’d like to give him some more minutes here coming up in the next few weeks, but again, he was dynamic and created a great spark on the attack.”
As Cordova gets further acclimated and Kreilach nears his return, RSL’s attack should further spark to life. The club also has several open Designated Player and U22 Initiative slots, giving their new ownership group plenty of flexibility to invest with the Primary Transfer Window running through May 4.
In the meantime, it’s three points in the bag without two players that were key to success in 2021. And it came before a capacity crowd of 20,017 fans at the RioT, with many sticking through the weather delay to see RSL beat a rotated Sounders group factoring in their impending Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series vs. Liga MX’s Club Leon.
“I felt bad for the fans because of the whole break, it felt like forever,” Wood said. “But hopefully the next home game will be a lot better.”