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Even the Sounders can’t believe they landed Albert Rusnak. Here’s why the star midfielder chose Seattle.

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Albert Rusnak thought he knew enough about MLS after five years playing for Real Salt Lake. Then he became a first-time free agent last fall.

“It wasn’t easy,” Rusnak said Friday after signing with the Sounders FC. “I imagined free agency completely different than what it turned out to be. I’m not so familiar with everything and all of the rules in MLS. I started to know them when I entered free agency. It was a process.”

Rusnak’s arrival is a direct result of the MLS Players Association’s contentious negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the league. A process the MLSPA had to broach three times due to the coronavirus pandemic suspending play in March 2020 and MLS enacting its “force majeure” clause in December 2020 after a reported $1 billion in losses.

Under the old CBA, the player threshold for free agency was to be 28 years old and a minimum of eight MLS seasons. MLSPA was able to lower eligibility to age 24 and five years of service.

The change saw 127 players enter the free-agency pool — a 149% increase in 2021-22 compared to the 2019-20 seasons, according to figures provided by MLSPA. And one of the biggest names on the list was Rusnak, a 27-year-old attacking midfielder who captained Real to the Western Conference playoff finals last year.

Craig Waibel, the Sounders senior vice president of soccer and sporting director, said it took three seconds to decide if Seattle should target Rusnak once the midfielder’s name was spotted on the MLS free-agency list in November. Waibel held a similar position with Real and lured Rusnak from Dutch side FC Groningen in 2017, signing him to a designated player contract.

Sounders assistant Freddy Juarez coached Rusnak at RSL, including a stint as head coach from 2019 through August 2021.

“It’s nice to not have to guess,” Waibel said of pitching Rusnak to the Sounders technical staff. “To be able to speak openly in a room and really describe a player. Freddy has a ton of experience managing Albert. I really just have experience bringing Albert into a club and watching him develop.”

Rusnak started 134 of his 140 regular season matches with RSL, scoring 41 goals and totaling 39 assists. The Claret-and-Cobalt advanced to the postseason three times during Rusnak’s tenure.

The Slovakian international’s quality — he ranked fourth in MLS in shot-creating actions (149) and 10th in goal-creating actions (16) last season — prompted many to dismiss the likelihood of RSL letting one of their DPs walk. Rusnak’s signing is regarded as the biggest in MLS’s 27-year history in terms of a designated player signing with another MLS club.

Rusnak, a married father of two, also had multiple lucrative offers from European clubs.

“I’m like: ‘Rusnak’s not coming. Come on. This is the best player on our archrival’s team,’” said Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders president of soccer and general manager. “We were very lucky to be able to have some of the conversations that we had because there was some trust there. It wasn’t just jump off a cliff and go to some other team and hope for the best.”

Rusnak’s star power was the main draw of the Sounders’ opening training camp Friday, with other notable stars missing in Uruguayan midfielder Nico Lodeiro and Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz. Both remain in their respective countries and a timetable for their arrival wasn’t given.

Lodeiro was limited to 475 minutes, including the postseason, due to two knee surgeries last year. Ruidiaz finished the season dealing with a hamstring injury.

Lagerwey said signing Rusnak wasn’t related to Lodeiro’s health issues. Rusnak is a versatile player who could anchor the midfield along with Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo or play out on either wing.

“(Nico’s) working his way back, and we have every belief that he’s going to be able to come back good as new,” Lagerwey said. “Albert was signed because we think he’s the best player for the group and that’s independent of whether Nico is playing, not playing.”

Rusnak adds depth for a club aiming, again, to make a long run in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament. The Sounders open with a series against F.C. Motagua on Feb. 17 in Honduras and Feb. 24 at Lumen Field. Seattle lost in the opening round in 2020.

The Rave Green also want to redeem losing their playoff opener, a first in club history, and return to the Leagues Cup title match. Considering the amount of experienced players the Sounders return — forward Will Bruin, keeper Stefan Cleveland, midfielder Kelyn Rowe, and striker Fredy Montero have all reached contract agreements — winning another U.S. Open Cup title isn’t a stretch.

The high ambitions, talented roster and environment created by a faithful 34,000 fans at Lumen Field are among the reasons Rusnak said he chose Seattle. And he welcomes the expectation that he will help achieve those goals.

That’s the familiar part about MLS now that the free agency courting is over.

“This is what I want — to have a real chance (and) I believe here that chance is definitely on the table,” Rusnak said. “I can’t remember the last time in my career where I didn’t have pressure. Every time you change teams, the expectations are high and there’s always pressure. I signed for RSL in 2017 and I was replacing a legend (Javier Morales). Again, pressure. And now coming to a team that is expected to do very well in every competition that we will play in and again there’s pressure. It’s a good pressure because as athletes, I believe if there’s no pressure then I don’t think you get the best out of yourself.”

NOTE: Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer announced the hiring of Andy Rose as the third and final assistant coach. Rose, 31, played for Seattle from 2012-15. The Australian midfielder played 19 matches for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC last year.





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MLS

DeAndre Yedlin is officially available

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DeAndre Yedlin is officially back on the market after Galatasaray announced that the Seattle native was no longer with the team. It had been previously reported that Yedlin was going to accept a buyout.

Yedlin ended up spending less than a year in Turkey, making 27 appearances and 24 starts in league play for one of the country’s biggest clubs. After helping nearly win the Turkish Süper Lig in his first season and falling just short of Champions League qualification, Galatasaray has slumped to 14th about midway through this season. Yedlin had started 15 of 23 games so far.

It’s not entirely clear what’s next for Yedlin. Last week, there was reporting that he was close to returning to MLS, with Inter Miami being the most likely destination. Not only does Miami have a personal connection with Yedlin through Chris Henderson, but they also hold the top spot in the Allocation Order and are in need of a right back. But Yedlin’s agent publicly disputed reports that a signing was imminent.

Around the same time, reports surfaced that Yedlin was in talks with Hull City about potentially returning to England. Hull are currently 19th in the EFL Championship, nine points clear of the relegation zone. Hull are also run by Tan Kesler, who helped bring Yedlin to Galatasaray last summer while working as an agent.

In the meantime, Yedlin remains with the United States men’s national team for a trio of World Cup qualifiers.



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Amber Brooks waived by OL Reign

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OL Reign bid farewell to Amber Brooks on Tuesday, announcing that the defender has been waived to allow her to pursue opportunities for more playing time with another club. Brooks was in her second stint with the Reign, having returned to the club ahead of the 2020 season.

“As our squad for the upcoming season evolved it became apparent that opportunities for Amber would be limited this year. After sharing these expectations with Amber, she and I agreed that her best option was a move to another team in the NWSL,” said OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey in a team release. “We are hopeful that by making this move before preseason it provides Amber a well-deserved chance with another NWSL team. Amber has been an incredible professional during her time with the club and we wish her nothing but the best.”

Brooks previously played for the then-named Seattle Reign FC in 2015, making 12 appearances and scoring one goal for the NWSL Shield-winning side. In the following off-season she was traded to the Houston Dash, where she spent the next four years before returning to the Reign.

In 2020 she helped anchor the Reign backline during the Challenge Cup and Fall Series, making 8 appearances and scoring a goal against Portland. In 2021 she played in three of the team’s four Challenge Cup matches as well as making 11 appearances for 321 minutes in the regular season, but saw her playing time decrease as the season progressed and newly returned head coach Laura Harvey settled on a consistent backline which did not include her.



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MLS

D.C. United Acquire MLS Domestic Trade Fee Record $2 Million Guaranteed in GAM for Winger Paul Arriola

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Washington, DC (Jan. 26, 2022) – D.C. United have acquired a Major League Soccer (MLS) domestic trade fee record of $2 million in General Allocation Money (GAM) from FC Dallas in exchange for winger Paul Arriola. The club will receive $1.5 million GAM in 2022 and $500,000 in GAM in 2023. D.C. United will also receive an additional $300,000 in GAM if Arriola achieves certain performance-based incentives while with FC Dallas, as well as retain 30% of any transfer fee if the player is transferred outside of MLS. Arriola was a Designated Player for D.C. United.

“We want to thank Paul for his commitment and service to the club since he arrived in 2017,” Lucy Rushton, D.C. United General Manager, said. “He has been an integral player for our team and has been a model professional both on and off the field. We wish him luck in the next chapter of his career in Dallas.”

Arriola joined D.C. United from Liga MX side, Club Tijuana, on a permanent transfer in August 2017 as a Young Designated Player. Since joining D.C. United, Arriola has scored 20 goals and recorded 16 assists in 91 appearances (85 starts) in MLS play since making his debut on Aug. 12, 2017.

In 2021, Arriola scored six goals and recorded four assists in 20 appearances (19 starts) for the Black-and-Red after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Feb. 2020. His final goal for the club was on Oct. 30, 2021 against Columbus Crew SC and his last appearance was in the MLS Decision Day match against Toronto on Nov. 7, 2021.

Arriola was a regular for the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) during his tenure with the Black-and-Red. The 26-year-old has scored eight goals and recorded six assists in 42 appearances for the Red-White-and-Blue since making his national team debut on May 22, 2016, against Puerto Rico.

Transaction: D.C. United acquire $2,000,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) from FC Dallas in exchange for winger Paul Arriola. The club will receive $1.5 million GAM in 2022 and $500,000 in GAM in 2023. D.C. United will also receive an additional $300,000 in GAM if Arriola achieves certain performance-based incentives while with FC Dallas, as well as retain 30% of any transfer fee if the player is transferred outside of MLS.





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