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Sandy • Ten minutes after the final session of the week wrapped at Real Salt Lake's training grounds, its young, talented and versatile playmaker was in the starting lineup at the UEFA U-21 Championships in Poland.
This is what RSL signed up for when it acquired 22-year-old Slovakian midfielder Albert Rusnák. A rising talent on his national team's radar after coming on as a substitute in Slovakia's 2-1 win over Lithuania in UEFA World Cup qualifying, Rusnák joined the Slovakian U-21 national team for the annual European youth tournament.
Rusnák, signed this offseason from Dutch club FC Groningen, was brought in to usher in a new era of a position that was made famous by franchise legend Javier Morales. While Rusnák was in a No. 10 jersey against host Poland on Friday, RSL is left with a sizable hole in its lineup, trying to replace the brightest spot in an otherwise dim season.
RSL coach Mike Petke said earlier in the week he had a number of candidates in mind, but as the week wore on, he's got his man in mind. He didn't name names, but said it'll likely be a player who has seen significant time in different spots in RSL's 4-3-3 formation.
"I'm not a big guy moving two positions for one," Petke said, "but perhaps this time I'm going to because of the quality this player would bring. This is going to be a straight-up, this guy goes in for what Albert's role is and he understands the role."
Who will Petke roll the dice on? Could be young Venezuelan winger Jefferson Savarino. Or Luis Silva, who has played all over the front four in RSL's attack. Outliers could be youngsters Sebastian Saucedo or Jose Hernandez.
Whoever it is, said RSL veteran Tony Beltran, must take advantage of such responsibilities that Rusnák has grown accustomed to, helping control the flow of a match and creating opportunities for others going forward.
"Whoever steps into that No. 10 role, I think, understands that they need to make a statement," Beltran said.
"[The No. 10 is] supposed to get on the ball a lot, which Albert does he's smart on and off the ball," Silva said. "I think whoever plays there tomorrow, the coach and our teammates have given the confidence to do that."
In 14 starts in 2017, Rusnák has three goals and a team-high five assists. The young Slovakian has trumped the stereotype of new foreign playmaking midfielders struggling to adapt to life in MLS, a question he faced starting the day he was introduced as RSL's new No. 10.
"He has been fantastic from the get-go this year," Beltran said. "It's not easy to step into a new league, a new team and play at that level, let alone fill the shoes of the No. 10 and the No. 10 who came before him."
Sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, RSL might have to arrest its current slide without Rusnák, for at least the next couple weeks, anyway. Depending on how far Slovakia's U-21 team advances, he could miss as many as three league matches. Slovakia's next two Group A matches come against England (June 19) and Sweden (June 22).