HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 13: A general view of the MLS, Fussball Herren, USA march ball on the field during the first half of the Major League Soccer game between the New York Red Bulls and Minnesota United on March 13, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire SOCCER: MAR 13 MLS - Minnesota United at New York Red Bulls Icon220332609

Albert Rusnak, from Manchester City to MLS Designated Player, the midfielder has always had talent but could that all culminate this winter?

Since his move to Real Salt Lake in January 2017, the Slovakian has been key to their success. That has been reflected in the contract extension he signed with the club which keeps him there until 2022. The new contract also makes him the highest paid player in the club’s history.

Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
Heatmap of Rusnak from MLS 2018 season

Staying current, however, RSL will be hoping that Rusnak repays their faith by taking them to the MLS Cup Play-Offs in a few weeks.

As seen in his heatmap, Rusnak is a very attacking midfielder. Taking up spaces in between the lines, he’s been effective this season scoring ten and assisting seven goals. This tactical analysis shows how he can be the difference between RSL being in the Play-Offs or not.

Sharpness: Goal Threat

What separates good players from great players is how quickly they can play. In Rusnak’s case, despite not being at a top of the table club, he’s proved time and again that he can think steps ahead of his opponents to take advantage of certain situations. This can be seen below.

Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
As RSL advanced, Rusnak didn’t rush. When the ball comes central, he’s able to ghost into the highlighted space without being detected.
Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
As the ball is set back, Rusnak is put under great pressure. Thinking ahead, however, he fakes a shot and drags the ball into the highlighted space void of pressure.
Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
Off his left foot, as the defenders come to press him, he lets off a pinpoint strike which goes in off the post.

As you can see, this goal was scored in the third minute of stoppage time. What that shows us is that Rusnak is still able to operate at a high level when under heaps of pressure.

Rather than taking the easy options, he was alert enough to see the rewards and good enough to take the risks to get those rewards. Goals like that could be what gets RSL into the Play-Offs rather than not.

However, it’s not just when in on goal that Rusnak shows his speed of thought.

Sharpness: Creativity

As seen in the earlier heatmap, Rusnak also spends time deeper in midfield. As a very creative midfielder, we can see this at work below.

Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
As RSL’s deeper midfielder occupies the highlighted Whitecaps player, Rusnak is scanning his surroundings. This allows him to drop into the highlighted space where he can pick up the ball unchallenged.
Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
Too far from the action, the Whitecaps players fail to intercept the pass. Rusnak does well to shift his body upon receiving the ball to take it in his stride and build an attack.
Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
In the same movement as receiving the ball, Rusnak shows his quick thinking as he frees his winger with an accurate lob into the box.

What we can see here, is Rusnak as a pure creative midfielder. On the ball, this type of sharpness could help his team move up the pitch at great speed and catch defences out.

It’s also important to note that Rusnak is incredibly adept with both feet. This brings an unpredictability to his game which can put opposition defenders at a great disadvantage. Not knowing where or how he will attack them can make the second guess themselves and freeze as he does damage as seen above.

What Can Hold Him Back?

However, as we saw in the heatmap, most of Rusnak’s football is spent higher up the pitch. This could also work against RSL in certain situations. When he tends to stay further forward, RSL struggle with their build-up play.

This can be seen below.

Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
Here we can see RSL split into two very obvious sections of defenders and attackers. With Minnesota easily able to cover the attackers, the defender on the ball has to step into midfield.
Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
He plays the ball forward but Minnesota press well and force RSL to play the ball wide and backwards.
Albert Rusnak Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
Similar to the first screenshot, the defender has to step into midfield to move the ball. When the ball finally comes wide, Minnesota have taken up great positions covering both spaces and players.

This patient, yet almost too slow method of build-up play could be of massive detriment to RSL and Rusnak. Spending most of his time waiting for the ball, he becomes easy to mark and nullify. Therefore, once RSL moves into the final third, there is very little space for him to operate.

One way this could be fixed is if one midfielder acts as a link. With his speed of thought and technical ability, this could be Rusnak but that would take away from RSL in the final third. Should this situation occur, it’ll be interesting to see how/if RSL can adapt to make their transitions quicker and more effective.


Overall, if RSL are going to reach the Playoffs, Rusnak is going to play a big role. He acts as a catalyst in midfield for them and is very much a difference maker when he is on the pitch.

Even if RSL don’t have the firepower to get to the MLS Cup final, Rusnak’s influence on the team has been clear for the past two seasons. His new contract is proof of that and whether that’s a contract just to increase his market value, we shall see in the near future.