SANDY, Utah—The week before taking on Vancouver on April 8, Albert Rusnak thought he was two games away from being fully adjusted to MLS. Turns out he was right on.
Real Salt Lake's attacking midfielder scored a goal and added two assists that weekend in a snowy second half against Vancouver and has continued to keep the RSL attack moving, scoring another goal against Atlanta United last Saturday.
“The more I played the better it was,” Rusnak said. “Other than Colorado, I played every game 90 minutes. That's also a big help, staying on the field for the whole match, because you never know when the chance can come. It can come in the last minute and it can come right at the start. I'm happy that I'm playing.”
Aside from a few minutes in the Colorado game and missing another for a call-up to the Slovakian national team, Rusnak has been a consistent contributor in the RSL midfield as injuries and an in-season coaching change have put Salt Lake through a hectic two months.
“It's all about the team,” said Rusnak, who's club visit Western Conference rival Sporting Kansas City on Saturday (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE). “The better we play as a team, the better each individual plays and looks on the field.”
The major change since new head coach Mike Petke took over has been pushing further up the field in the attack and staying there.
“I'm closer to the goal, then it's up to me to make the decision whether it's a pass or a shot,” Rusnak said. “The higher we play up the field, the better it is for the attacking players. I think this style is better for us.”
The change came at the right time, but Rusnak knew it wouldn’t be a quick process.
“If you can score on your debut, that's great and you can keep that going,” he said. “I know it takes a while to settle in. It’s not just a new team, but a new country, a new style of soccer, a new league. That could take a little bit longer. I'm happy the way it is right now.”
Finding a comfort zone after coming over from Europe has let him spill his emotions out on the pitch, especially when things aren’t going RSL’s way.
“I'm a winner. I want to win every game,” Rusnak said. “When we're not winning (my emotions) come through and you can see those on the field a little bit more.”
This Saturday, Rusnak will find out just how emotionally charged a game between RSL and Sporting KC can be. After beating Colorado two weeks ago, he’ll be schooled in Salt Lake’s two biggest rivalries in his first 10 games.
“I knew Colorado was for the (Rocky Mountain) Cup,” Rusnak said. “I guess this game will be kind of special as well because it's not so far. I heard this game and the one with Colorado are probably the two biggest.”
With the coaching change and injuries, the 11 players on the field Saturday won’ all be holdovers from the 2013 MLS Cup final between the two teams, but that doesn’t mean they won’t understand where the rivalry comes from.
“We have talked about it," said RSL striker and former Kansas City Wizard Yura Movsisyan. "They know."