RSL coach Freddy Juarez mounts fierce defense of Albert Rusnak

Albert Rusnak – Real Salt Lake – crouching

Real Salt Lake head coach Freddy Juarez has fiercely backed club captain Albert Rusnak, who's faced criticism after starting their 2021 season with no goals or assists through six games.

Rusnak, 26, is a Slovakian international who's in his fifth season with RSL and posted back-to-back 10-goal seasons from 2018-19. He's also a Manchester City youth product and is the Claret & Cobalt's sole Designated Player. Across 112 regular-season appearances in MLS, he has 30 goals and 28 assists.

"I see a hard-working captain," Juarez said when asked about Rusnak's performance. "I see a person that set the standards for the group that came in at the beginning of the year. I see a guy that gets the ball in areas and is very good with it. He's continuing to push. He's helping the group in many, many ways.

"Do I want every single one of our attacking players to score and assist? Of course we do," Juarez continued. "Every single coach in the world wants that from his players. But I don't base Albert on just that. That's icing on the cake. I like the habits that he has."

Juarez extended praise to RSL's other attackers, who he also feels should be judged on more than their goals and assists. RSL are due to add former US men's national team striker Bobby Wood this summer and have been getting production from Rubio Rubin, Damir Kreilach and Anderson Julio. They also recently signed forward Jonathan "Jony" Menendez from Argentine side Club Atletico Independiente, giving the Western Conference side another final-third option.

"It's the first time in a long time that we've had wingers that get back and return, then counter-attack the other way with good pace," Juarez said. "A lot of unselfish play [from them] and it's not just on Albert, our wingers, when we ask them to tackle, to press, to get the ball and make runs behind. These are all things that we are seeing from Albert. The training habits on the day-to-day, coming in at 7:15 in the morning, at the same time as staff. He's leading the way."

RSL have long been a club that relies on the collective, and Juarez believes that dynamic is evident in how Rusnak fits into the broader puzzle.

"There's one thing we've really been focusing on and that's that no one is bigger than the team," Juarez said. "We can't depend on just one player, we've got to depend on the collective – and that's what RSL really relies on. Their years of glory was that, the team is the star. It's not any different now."

Following the June international break, RSL return to action June 18 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. They've begun the year with a 2W-1L-3D record and are seeking a return to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.