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Sandy • Hopping from Tucson to Portland to Irvine was great and all, but it lacked something that Albert Rusnák eagerly has been anticipating for the past two months.
Real Salt Lake's offseason splash said he hasn't tasted the thrill of a jam-packed stadium environment in quite some time, which means his first match in an RSL uniform Saturday against Toronto FC at Rio Tinto Stadium will be a solid welcome.
"So far all the preseason games there were no fans, [we] played on a pitch in a park, it's not really a game," said the 22-year-old Slovakian attacking midfielder. "You don't really feel that in your guts. I'm really looking forward to playing in front of our fans in our stadium."
That gut feeling also presents the commencement of a new dawn at RSL, and Rusnák is exactly that. The Designated Player signing from Dutch club FC Groningen has his first shot at wowing the RSL faithful Saturday. The opposition has its share of known quantities in Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altiodre and Michael Bradley.
As does RSL. But Rusnák joins that mix, filling the void for the departed Javier Morales. He's now a name alongside Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Yura Movsisyan. Beckerman said RSL's new playmaker has "got a quality to him," an intangible the captain could tell right off the bat.
Veteran right back Tony Beltran noticed the same throughout preseason. And there's some necessary fight in the new RSL midfielder. Beltran recalls a 50-50 challenge this preseason in which Rusnák went toe-to-toe with an opposing player, won the ball and started a quick counter attack that resulted in a penalty kick for RSL.
"I've seen things in games that he's going to translate once season starts," Beltran said. "I think he's trying to be his own player very smooth on the ball, very silky. A calm air about him on the ball."
Beckerman ready and raring to go
Without a minute of preseason action under his belt, Beckerman's determined to overcome what was an injury-plagued first month of the season. The 34-year-old midfielder suffered a bone bruise in his left knee early this preseason and was held out of matches for precautionary reasons.
The RSL captain trained fully this week after seeing positive steps the last week of preseason and seems likely to play in Saturday's opener.
"I'm just glad it's feeling a lot better and I can actually get to work," he said.
Rusnák has trained with Beckerman but has yet to team up in the midfield during an official match, which he hopes changes this weekend.
"I think he was saving himself for the season because that's the most important," Rusnák said. "He's got a lot of experience, so I don't think for him it's as much needed to play those friendly games … I think it'll be easy because I think we're both on the same page of how we want to play."
U.S. under-20s closing in on World Cup
The U.S. U-20s sure bounced back. The young American team overcame a wobbly start to the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Costa Rica and sits a win or draw away from punching its ticket to this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Lead by five RSL academy products, including four RSL first-team players, the U-20s topped Mexico 1-0 on Monday for the first time in 31 years. The win also snapped a Mexican unbeaten streak that spanned the past seven years. RSL's Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon and Danilo Acosta have started every match thus far. Sebastian Saucedo has started two of the first four matches.
The U.S. qualify for the World Cup as well as the CONCACAF Championship match with a win or draw against El Salvador on Friday.
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