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Sandy • The star of the show Friday morning had to speak up a bit. As his new boss, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen, clutched the microphone, speaking glowingly about RSL's newest international signing, Albert Rusnák had to clarify something.
Hansen riffed on Rusnák's pedigree, a 22-year-old Slovakian attacking midfielder who assumes the role as RSL's linchpin in the attacking half of the field. Inside the press conference at Rio Tinto Stadium, Hansen explained how Rusnák became a cult hero at his Dutch club, FC Groningen, in large part due to his heroics in the KNVB Cup final two years ago.
"Did you score in that one?" Hansen asked.
"Both goals," Rusnák said quietly.
That came minutes after RSL general manager Craig Waibel handed his shiny offseason signing a pen and had the former Manchester City youth product, finally, sign on the dotted line making it all official. The multiyear contract was finalized Friday morning where he'll qualify as a Young Designated Player on RSL's 2017 salary cap.
"So much goes into a day like today," Waibel said, "and so much can come out of it."
After explaining why he chose RSL, Major League Soccer, the adjustment period expected in the United States and how his father, a former player turned pro scout, began watching highlights of RSL's 2016 season when the club first expressed interest, Rusnák stood in a crowd of recorders and cameras explaining why he believes he can be the young, dynamic No. 10 the club needs now.
"I'm not putting extra pressure on myself," he said. "I know what's expected. I know I have to deliver, and that will be up to me to do on the field."
Rusnák said he understands the demands of the position of dictating tempo, knowing when to speed the game up or try and bring it to a screeching halt should the situation call for it. And he'll be called upon to create loads of scoring chances. Not only for himself, but for the trio of forwards he'll be planted behind in the attack.
"I'm an attacking-minded player, so creating chances, scoring goals is also my job," he said. "I'll be looking forward to do it."
He'll do it in an awfully-familiar number. Together with Waibel, Hansen and RSL coach Jeff Cassar, Rusnák posed with his brand new No. 11 jersey around parts of Rio Tinto Stadium, including the frozen field, blanketed with snow. Rusnák's signing signals a new era at the club after a decade under the guidance and dazzling displays of Javier Morales.
"This was one that we needed," Hansen said. "Obviously Javi's an amazing player, a great friend and he led RSL in that middle for so long. But obviously we were late in the game there. We had no choice but to get a first-class No. 10, so the No. 1 hunt this year was a first-class No. 10.
Cassar, who flew in from Southern California specifically for Rusnák's presentation Friday, said the quality RSL's new attacking midfielder possesses shouldn't be overshadowed by the amount of experience he's already attained while playing in England and the Netherlands.
"This is a special time for our organization," Cassar said.
As RSL officials gave Rusnák the grand tour of his new stadium, the Slovakian international stopped to read every name plate in the locker room, Waibel said, asking who each player was, their position and current role on the team. He made a few stops along the way, most notably in front of captain Kyle Beckerman's spot in the locker room. It was a moment Waibel and the entire RSL front office got to appreciate after scouring the globe for the future of the club.
"I always joke that for every one contract we've signed, there's 99 others that we looked at at least," Waibel said. "Of those 99, we probably had conversations with 50, either interviewing for personality, financial; there's so many things that can make or break a deal, and so many things have to align for a deal that when you really get down to it, the percentages should probably convince us to not even try. It's when you find the right guys, not only does it fit for us, it fits for him. And you heard him say that."
Rusnák returns to Europe Saturday where he'll await the approval of his P-1 Visa and ITC (International Transfer Certificate). Waibel said he anticipates Rusnák being back in time for the start of preseason on Jan. 23, but if not, "very, very soon after."
It will be then that RSL's offseason catch can take a breather from the rumors, reports, interviews, negotiations, and everything else that has encompassed the last couple of months. No longer will he have to stay up until 3 a.m. to watch NHL games. A noted Washington Capitals fan, Rusnák is already planning on finding a game to attend at some point. He'd also like to catch a Utah Jazz game, too.
All in due time.
Position » Midfielder
Age » 22
Acquired » Multiyear Designated Player contract finalized Friday
Club history » Real Salt Lake (2017), FC Groningen (2015-2016), SC Cambuur (2014), Birmingham City (2014), Oldham Athletic (2014), Manchester City (2013-2015)
Stats » 12 goals in 76 appearances at FC Groningen, including two in KNVB Final