SALT LAKE CITY — With one more game to go in group play of the MLS Is Back tournament at the Disney World bubble in Orlando, Real Salt Lake is in good position, tied for the Group D lead in points with Minnesota United and holding the goal differential tiebreaker.
That said, the club got a scare last Friday in its 0-0 draw against Minnesota, as star Albert Rusnak injured his hip and ultimately had to come off in the 34th minute after trying for a time to play through it.
The good news for RSL is the injury doesn’t appear to be as serious as it may have looked in the moment, as head coach Freddy Juarez told media via Zoom on Monday morning there’s a chance Rusnak could play Wednesday in the group finale against Sporting Kansas City.
“He felt better today, so he was doing a little bit of exercise there off the field. We think tomorrow he’ll be even better, so it’s really just day-to-day. That’s just the total honesty.” — RSL coach Freddy Juarez, on Albert Rusnak
“He felt better today, so he was doing a little bit of exercise there off the field,” Juarez said. “We think tomorrow he’ll be even better, so it’s really just day-to-day. That’s just the total honesty.”
But hip health might not be the lone consideration for Juarez in deciding whether Rusnak will play. The coach said the team will be gunning for the win even though it’s in good shape in its group because points from the tournament will carry over to the regular season should it continue as planned, but he also wants to balance player well-being.
“We’re going for the three (points),” Juarez said before being asked specifically about Rusnak’s availability. “For us, the main focus was actually not the tournament. The tournament will come (second). For us, it was nine points that we could fight for, and in this case now (after last Friday’s draw) it’s seven points that we can fight for.
“We’re going for the win. That said, we don’t want to risk injury ... we could potentially do some rotations here ... if a player can’t be as fresh as possible, then we need to rotate in.”
All that also needs to be balanced with the fact that RSL’s attack needs to be better than it was last Friday, which Rusnak certainly would help with if he’s fit to play. Of the three goals RSL has scored this season, he has tallied one while Damir Kreilach has the other two.
“I’m happy with the group we have and the options that we have if Albert isn’t available, but if he is, we welcome it because we know he’s a leader,” Juarez said. “He’s a great player. He’s one of the best players in the league, and if he’s not (available), we’ll miss him, but we also know that there’s guys that can fill in and we have some good, talented players that could come in and fill in.”
Added Kreilach: “At the end of the day, everyone knows that Albert is a very important player for us, but on the other side, I just want to say how much quality we have in our roster. Anyone can replace anyone, and because of that, I’m very happy and proud of the boys.”