Albert Rusnak has been here before — getting looks at goal but not breaking the plane for long stretches of a season.
The Sounders midfielder had two of those “how did he miss that?” attempts in the opening half against Los Angeles FC on Saturday. The first sailed over the net and the second, a left-footed hook shot outside the box, was saved by keeper Maxime Crepeau.
As the sides headed into halftime goalless at Lumen Field, it seemed Rusnak would remain without an MLS goal for his new team. The playmaker was the biggest intraleague free-agent signing in two decades when he left Real Salt Lake for Seattle in January. The little moves Rusnak makes that steady the team — especially without Joao Paulo available due to a season-ending knee injury — is worth the money.
But the Sounders expect the goals and assists, too. Rusnak had a career-high 11 goals and 11 assists for RSL last year — all of which started in June.
After the first-half misses Saturday, Rusnak finally scored his first MLS goal of the season. The Sounders couldn’t hold onto the clean sheet, though, conceding a late goal for a 1-1 draw at Lumen Field.
“I understand that as a player, you’re going to go through some rough spells; that’s what I did last year,” Rusnak said recently. “The start of the season, especially, the first six, seven games — no goals, no assists.
“All of a sudden, the people wanted to start pointing fingers and saying, ‘Oh, he’s not good enough’ and this and that. Then you end the season and everybody wants to lift you up in their arms. I understand that is the life of an athlete. … It’s not always going to be pretty and if it was, everybody would be playing well all the time.”
Rusnak’s strike was a gift from Crepeau crafted by pressure Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer wants his team to continue. Crepeau had a quick goal kick into space as Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro charged toward him. Rusnak jumped the pass to dribble the ball right back into the box for a right-footed shot in the 58th minute.
Crepeau crumpled to the turf in attempting to make the save, then arguing with teammates as the announced crowd of 34,642 cheered for Rusnak. The Slovakian international also bagged a goal and an assist during the CONCACAF Champions League tournament this season.
“I’m sure the goalkeeper knows it wasn’t the best pass, but it was the right pass to make,” Rusnak said. “If that pass is good and they connect the next pass, then they’re off. A game of presses is tricky, and it doesn’t work all the time, but it is something we want to apply more when we play at home. But it (the final result) feels like a loss right now.”
The Sounders missed out on two chances to clear a ball out of the box in the 79th minute that led to Cristian Arango’s equalizer off a header.
The botched defense, including Sounders keeper Stefan Frei missing the save, overshadowed Frei’s strong performance. He finished with six saves.
Schmetzer wondered if his substitution decisions were a factor in LAFC’s score. Center back Xavier Arreaga was subbed off for Kelyn Rowe in the 74th minute due to an apparent injury, which is being evaluated. Nouhou could’ve shifted over or Schmetzer could’ve called on center back AB Cissoko.
“I’ll reflect on our decisions as a coaching staff,” Schmetzer said.
Eyes stayed glued at goal in the 29th minute. Frei made a tough save with his midsection but took a long time to get back onto his feet. The Sounders advanced the ball and had a near chance at the other end as Frei rose and waved off medical attention.
Frei stopped three more LAFC shot attempts, including a kick save in the 43rd minute, to help the Sounders stay level at the break.
“(LAFC forward Kwadwo Opoku’s shot) was one of those where it was just so close that he just tried to hit it as hard as he could,” Frei said. “You try to hold your ground. The fact that he hit it and it was still rising, he caught me on the lowest rib and right in the knee. There’s not much protection for your lungs there. … I was gasping trying to find some air, thankfully I found it about 20 seconds later.”
Seattle played without striker Raul Ruidiaz, who suffered a left hamstring injury during its win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Tuesday. Center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade remained out due to a right hamstring injury.
But internationals Jordan Morris (U.S.), Cristian Roldan (U.S.), Rusnak and Nouhou (Cameroon) returned from national duty and were able to make the start.
LAFC star Carlos Vela surprisingly didn’t start, entering the match in the 46th minute. The Mexican international leads the team with six goals this season and has started 12 of his 13 appearances. But his contract expires June 30 and there haven’t been any reports that he’s close to signing a new deal.
First-year LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo used Arango, Danny Musovski and Opoku in the attack. And LAFC also had a different defensive look as this season’s mainstays Mamadou Fall and Kellyn Acosta weren’t in the starting lineup but available as subs.
LAFC (9-3-3) continued the hot start to the season to remain ahead in the league’s Supporters’ Shield race.
Seattle (6-6-2) continues its homestand against Sporting Kansas City on June 25.
“They’re just the leaders,” Schmetzer said of LAFC. “We’re disappointed.”