Real Salt Lake "working around the clock" on Albert Rusnak replacement 

Ahead of their 2022 campaign, Real Salt Lake were thrown one of the biggest curveballs of the MLS offseason when star midfielder Albert Rusnak departed in free agency for Seattle Sounders FC.

Rusnak's exit leaves RSL with the task of replacing his production, as the 27-year-old Slovakian international provided 11 goals and 11 assists last season, playing almost every minute while starting all 34 regular-season games. He also served as the Claret-and-Cobalt's captain.

Finding a player to fill that void will be no easy feat, but head coach Pablo Mastroeni said they're hard at work identifying potential targets.

"Obviously Albert was a big player for this club, was a big player for us last year," Mastroeni said on Friday. "Listen, as a technical staff [we're] working diligently to find that replacement, and hopefully we do that sooner than later.

"Free agency is an interesting mechanism in pro sports. There's a ton of factors that go into bringing a player of Albert, his quality, back to the group. At the end of the day, it's a free market. There's so many factors that go into decisions like that. I exchanged texts with Albert yesterday, he's excited to be in Seattle and really now it's about moving forward and finding a player that's going to come in and produce like Albert did for our group."

Mastroeni said the search is all-encompassing, with players from abroad and within MLS both possible candidates. Time is of the essence with a 2022 opener against Houston Dynamo FC on Feb. 27 fast approaching, but Mastroeni said it's important to balance the condensed timeframe with finding the right fit.

"There's not an hour in the day that goes by where we're not in communication with players both abroad and throughout the league," Mastroeni said. "We have a few good targets but again the players abroad are in the middle of their season. It's a really tough window to get players, especially with time left on their contract. There's contractual issues that arise. Players within the league that are of that caliber are obviously in a similar situation that Albert was in, as a free agent.

"We're working around the clock to make sure we're doing our due diligence and making sure we've got the right fit and obviously having the opportunity to secure a player. I'm optimistic that we'll find that player before the season starts, but I think the most important part of this whole thing is to make sure we get the right fit and not hurry ourselves in getting a player just to fill that void."

Despite the departure, Mastroeni remains bullish on the future of the club. RSL's ownership search has ended with David Blitzer and Ryan Smith taking over, which Mastroeni said has provided "renewed energy."

With an influx of homegrown signings – RSL signed five this past week alone – and a mix of experienced veterans, Mastroeni believes they can build upon a 2021 Western Conference Final trip.

"It's really starting with the academy and bringing in young players like Julio [Benitez] like Jude [Wellings], that I think do a really job of securing the future of this group," Mastroeni said. "Re-signing a guy like [Justin] Meram, guys like Scott Caldwell, bringing a great level of MLS experience to our group. And then it's just really filling in some of the DP slots that I think will complete this group.

"The infrastructure is here, I think the mentality is here and I think we did a great job of creating an identity last year. Now it's just making the improvements in the slots that will solidify the whole group."