ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — It was late February in Florida, a perfect chance to catch up before the grind of a Major League Soccer regular season kicked into gear.
The conversation ranged, from reminiscing about their time together in Manchester City’s elite development squad, when Vieira coached the Slovakian international, to their families and the upcoming season.
“That was a fake report,” Vieira said following training Monday. “There wasn’t any truth in that.”
The two will convene again Wednesday night as Real Salt Lake visits New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (7 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info), where there figures to be plenty of mutual respect.
Rusnak, according to Vieira, is one of the “best No. 10’s in the league,” and has an opportunity in Salt Lake City to showcase some of the same skills Vieira saw when he coached Rusnak for a year and a half when the midfielder was 17 years old.
“He’s got the talent,” Vieira said. “I think when he was at City we saw that talent, but of course it was really difficult because we didn’t have the game program. He was ready to play ‘man football’ when he was 17, 18 years old.”
Vieira fondly remembers a young talent who was a “really good kid with a dry sense of humor sometimes.” Opportunities to expand his game, though, were limited in England and that, according to Vieira, is the biggest difference with Rusnak in Manchester versus the influential player in Major League Soccer.
“He didn’t maybe progress or he didn’t go to the next step I believe because one of the reasons is that at City or England you don’t have the game program for those talented young players to challenge themselves,” Vieira said.
Now, Rusnak is flourishing at RSL. A year removed from scoring seven goals — including a left-footed bullet from outside the 18-yard box in a 2-1 home win against Vieira's City side last May — and adding 14 assists, he scored his lone goal from the penalty spot this year in a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on March 17.
Vieira will have another chance to reunite with Rusnak somewhere in the bowels of Yankee Stadium before Wednesday's match. There might not be coffee, but there certainly will be a warm greeting.
“He’s really happy where he is,” Vieira said. “I’m glad he’s doing well.”