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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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Toronto FC’s GoalMachine takes home eMLS League Series One title

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It was a historic performance for the Toronto man, who just signed as the Reds’ eMLS representative in December and was making his debut appearance on the circuit. With the victory, he delivered Toronto FC’s first eMLS final appearance and championship in club history.

He got everything he could handle in the final from PauloNeto999, who had a 3-2 aggregate lead in the 88th minute of the second leg, only to see GoalMachine strike for a clutch late equalizer to force extra time.





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Lion Links: 1/16/22 – The Mane Land

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Hello, Mane Landers! This week kept The Mane Land staff team busy with breaking news, which must indicate the opening of Orlando City’s preseason camp is right around the corner. Tuesday, to be exact. Let’s head to the links!

Pato Returns to Orlando City

Orlando City announced Saturday morning the re-signing of center forward Alexandre Pato to a one-year deal. The Lions’ front office does not include financial terms when it announces transactions. However, multiple outlets reported the deal mostly consists of performance incentives. Pato was injured in the first game of last season and ultimately appeared in only four regular season matches and the Lions’ lone playoff game in Nashville. The accomplished Brazilian striker, if he can stay healthy, and Tesho Akindele are expected to provide goal-scoring depth behind whomever is acquired to succeed Daryl Dike up top. We’re going to sign more guys, right?

Moments after the club announced the return of Pato, which means “duck” in Portuguese, the Lions’ assistant general manager and technical director Ricardo Moreira tweeted perhaps the catchiest celebration of the news. LDG!

Pato shared an announcement video in which he promised “2022 will be better than the last one.”

Lions Announce 2022 Preseason Schedule

The Lions will face five MLS sides and Florida’s two USL Championship clubs in preseason action. All seven matches will be played behind closed doors. The preseason opener is Jan. 23 against an MLS club not yet named. Orlando City will also play Minnesota United, FC Dallas, and the Colorado Rapids. The Lions will battle the USL’s Miami FC, which is now led by former Orlando City B head coach Anthony Pulis. The Welshman played for Orlando City from 2012-2014 when it competed in USL Pro. The Lions and the Tampa Bay Rowdies square off on Feb. 19 to close out the schedule. Even though it’s a preseason match and the two teams compete in different tiers, is it still considered an I-4 derby? I think so.

Weston McKinnie Is On Fire

Juventus and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Weston McKennie is the hottest American player in the world right now. McKennie headed in Juve’s second goal in its 2-0 triumph over Udinese yesterday, and he has now netted eight goals in 50 Serie A competitions. Yesterday’s goal followed one he scored in Juve’s Italian Supercoppa loss to Inter Milan on Wednesday. The American continues to improve on the pitch and that bodes well for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it prepares to resume Concacaf World Cup qualifiying later this month.

Reports: Che & Bassett to Europe; Arriola to Mexico City

MLSSoccer.com’s Transfer Tracker shared reports that two young MLS players will soon be loaned to European clubs for 18 months with options to buy. FC Dallas will reportedly send Homegrown defender Justin Che to the Bundesliga’s Hoffenheim and the Colorado Rapids will ship USMNT midfielder Cole Bassett to Eredivisie club Feyenoord. Club America is also expected to bring D.C. United and USMNT winger Paul Arriola back to Liga MX.

Man City Downs Chelsea, Coutinho Scores in Aston Villa Debut

A dazzling strike from Kevin De Bruyne lifted Manchester City over Chelsea yesterday to extend the Cityzens’ Premier League lead to 13 points. A close three-team battle for the Premier League crown is looking less likely.

Philippe Coutinho introduced himself to the Villa Park faithful with a game-tying goal after coming on as a substitute in Aston Villa’s come-from-behind 2-2 draw with Manchester United.

Free Kicks

Thanks for visiting, Mane Landers. Enjoy this week’s scenes from preseason camp.



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Inter Miami CF sign Jamaica international defender Damion Lowe

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TRANSFER TRACKER STATUS: Signing

The 28-year-old joins Inter Miami through the 2023 MLS season with a club option for 2024.

“Damion is a capable center back who has proven himself at the international level for Jamaica and we’re happy to welcome him at Inter Miami,” chief soccer officer and sporting director Chris Henderson said in a release. “I’ve known Damion for a long time and I’m sure he’ll welcome this challenge to break into MLS while helping us achieve our objectives. We’re looking forward to continuing to solidify our backline with this signing.”





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