Float and sting: Real Salt Lake see playmaker Rusnak as 'focal point'

SANDY, Utah – Albert Rusnak was interested enough in Real Salt Lake to board a trans-Atlantic flight on Thursday before his contract was finalized.

That part came to pass on Friday morning, and both player and club are thrilled with the decision.

Rusnak signed a Young Designated Player deal on Friday and is expected to play a key part in the RSL attack. He will replace departed playmaker Javier Morales in both number and role, wearing No. 11 for the Claret and Cobalt.

“It has been a focal point and a piece that we needed to sign,” said RSL general manager Craig Waibel.

Rusnak trained at the Manchester City academy and comes to RSL from Dutch Eredivisie club FC Groningen. Real Salt Lake's interest surprised him a bit from the very beginning, he said.

“I couldn't imagine that an MLS club would know about me and know what kind of a player I was,” Rusnak said. “From the first conversation, I could feel they knew a lot about me.”

RSL head scout Andy Williams brought Rusnak to head coach Jeff Cassar's attention, and everyone liked what they saw -- a lot. In fact, his skill with the ball has led RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen to dub him the “Muhammad Ali at soccer.”

“He’s young, he’s energetic, but has an unbelievable amount of experience,” added Cassar.

Now it's time for Rusnak to get to know Salt Lake, his teammates, and MLS, a process that's already underway. His father, himself a former professional player, had been scouting MLS games ever since RSL showed interest in his son.

“Each league has something else – for example in England, the football is really tough, with strong players and quick players, whereas in Holland it was more with the ball in tight spaces,” Rusnak said. “MLS is a mixture of the two. There will be strong athletes in this league who are much bigger than me, and there will also be players good with the ball. I think players can adapt very quickly with the environment here. I think it's going to be easy for me to settle in.”

Rusnak won’t really get to know his teammates until the preseason begins in February. But on Friday he took a tour of the locker room and began to soak it all in, in advance of RSL's Mar. 4 season opener vs. Toronto FC.

“The first thing he did was [he] slowly walked around, looked at the names above the lockers and asked questions; who are they and how do they contribute?” Waibel said.

Of course, he knew of a couple teammates already, like Kyle Beckerman.

“That's one guy I recognized from the USA national team,” Rusnak said. “I was double-checking, is that the guy? Some guys ring a bell when you see the names.”

Rusnak is slated to slide into attacking midfield in front of Beckerman. And just as RSL's captain has been, the Slovak international hopes to form part of RSL’s spine for a long time.