HERRIMAN — Albert Rusnak’s historic performance on Saturday against the Houston Dynamo didn’t come from a match start.
Head coach Mike Petke made the decision to rest starters Kyle Beckerman and Rusnak. Pablo Ruiz, RSL’s starting midfielder of the match, went down with a leg injury in the 41st minute and Rusnak was brought off the bench.
After expressing his frustrations with the team's inability to convert goals at halftime, Rusnak took matters into his own hands going into the second half to dig the team out of a 1-0 deficit.
Rusnak made two goals in stoppage time. The first goal came in the 94th minute to tie the match 1-1. The second goal came in the 100th minute on a PK forced by Sebastian Saucedo to win the match 2-1.
Albert puts the pen away & that's it in Houston!— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) August 19, 2018
“Albert got thrown in a little earlier than we wanted, but look at the response he had,” Petke said Saturday. “It’s ironic that the last time we played Houston, Kyle comes off the bench and scores the game-winner. Maybe that’s the recipe ... I don’t know.”
Rusnak had the performance of his young career that night and further established himself as a team leader. He became the first MLS player to score both a stoppage-time-tying goal and stoppage-time game-winning goal. Securing three points for RSL looked easy.
“When I came in I tried to do my best, you know," Rusnak said. "On that day it worked."
Establishing another young leader on the field will help Petke and Beckerman lead RSL to a playoff run. "Good teams don't have just one, you have a bunch of leaders out there" Beckerman said. "Albert, he's young but he's a lot more mature than his age could tell ya. He has that ability to be a leader. Those things that we saw on Saturday, that's what it's all about."
- Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) shoots against the Los Angeles FC in Sandy on Saturday, March 10, 2018. LAFC won 5-1.
- Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) if congratulated after scoring on a penalty kick against FC Dallas during MLS soccer in Sandy on Saturday, July 7, 2018. Ravell Call
- Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) screams after shooting and missing in the game against Colorado at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. Deseret News
- Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) passes the ball in front of Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara (3) as REAL Salt Lake takes on Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. Real Salt Lake wins the match against Sporting Kansas City 2-1.
- Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak, left, is defended by Los Angeles FC midfielder Eduard Atuesta during the first half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) AP
"I wanna see him continue to take over a game like he did late in the second half," Petke said. "He's a big player..."
With the win, Real Salt Lake jumped to fourth place in the Western Conference standings with 38 points. Rusnak hopes the momentum from the team's game-winning performance will carry into the next match against the Colorado Rapids for the Rocky Mountain Cup.
Since Colorado is nowhere near playoff positioning with an 11th place ranking, there is more on the line for RSL. If the team is able to grab three points, it will stay near the top of the West. With a loss, it could easily move out of the top six.
RSL will kick off against the Colorado Rapids Saturday at 7 p.m. at DSG Park.