TUKWILA — Albert Rusnak feels clarity is needed when evaluating one of the more disappointing ends to a Sounders FC season.

“I don’t look at it as making (the) playoffs. I look at it as going to MLS Cup,” Rusnak said of the club not earning a postseason berth for the first time in the organization’s 14-year history. “You make playoffs and go out in the first round, great. You made playoffs and your season was four days longer. Congratulations. But at the end of the day, you’ve done nothing.

“Making playoffs is the first step to be able to play in MLS Cup and then to win it. We haven’t done that, so we’re disappointed and whatever critique we get from the fans and the people inside the football club, it’s deserved, and we have to accept that as players.”

Not meeting the high standard makes this week sting the most. MLS is in the midst of celebrating the conclusion of its 27th season and will crown a first-time champion Saturday at Banc of California Stadium when host Los Angeles FC plays the Philadelphia Union in the MLS Cup. The match will air at 1 p.m. PT on FOX.

LAFC defeated Austin FC to win the Western Conference championship, ending a seven-year reign of either Seattle or Portland representing the conference. The Union topped New York City FC, the defending league champs, to advance.

Rusnak signed with the Sounders with the aim of being in Saturday’s match — a would-be first in the Slovakian international’s six-year MLS career. The midfielder was a surprising catch for Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer, because many believed the then-free agent would re-sign with Real Salt Lake after losing in the Western Conference finals to Portland last year. Rusnak, 28, also had offers to return to Europe.


By joining the Sounders as their third designated player — the league limit — Rusnak said his chances of “winning trophies” was optimal. And he was integral to winning one, the CONCACAF Champions League in May. In MLS play, the Sounders lost a club-record 17 matches in placing 11th in the West.

“This team is good enough to win both MLS and the Champions League in the same year,” Rusnak said. “That’s sports, you know, it didn’t happen for us in MLS. Since we won Champions League, we never looked the same — as confident, as together like we did in the Champions League, (but) one out of two trophies is not the worst.”

Partly due to injuries to defensive midfielder Joao Paulo (ACL) and backup midfielder Obed Vargas (lower back), Rusnak played a different role than expected when he signed in January 2022 alongside a merry-go-round of teammates.

The former RSL captain slotted in at center midfield and racked up 11 goals with 11 assists in orchestrating the attack last year. For the Sounders, Rusnak moved back a line to central defensive midfielder, finishing the season with three goals and two assists.

Defensively, Rusnak had 24 interceptions and won 47.1% of his 193 duels. He was second to center back Xavier Arreaga in passing at 88.1%, but the Sounders never found a groove in the middle. Rusnak partnered with Josh Atencio, Danny Leyva, Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe and also had to shift to left wing for a few games as Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer juggled late-season injuries to Roldan (sports hernia) and striker Raul Ruidiaz (hamstring/ankle).

“I’ve always said, yes, goals and assists are nice and it’s what’s expected, but if we win trophies and I don’t have goals and assists, but I contributed in some way, then I’ll take it,” Rusnak said. “So, 100%, I made the right decision (signing with the Sounders). I won the Champions League.


“We’ll see what will be the plan for next year. I’m sure we’ll sit down with the coaches and the midfielders and attackers and maybe the plan will be the same as it was this year and maybe the plan will be some changes. That will be up to the coaching staff.”

The biggest change Rusnak is hoping for in 2023 is that the Sounders remain healthy. Joao Paulo, Ruidiaz and Vargas are on track to be available by March while Roldan returned for the final three matches of this season.

There will still be a strain on the rotation. In addition to playing more games because the CCL win qualified the Sounders for the FIFA Club World Cup and MLS joined with Mexico’s Liga MX for a monthlong Leagues Cup tournament, there’s a strong possibility first-choice players Roldan (U.S.), forward Jordan Morris (U.S.), Arreaga (Ecuador) and defender Nouhou (Cameroon) don’t get an extended break because they’re called up for the Qatar World Cup.

The tournament runs Nov. 20-Dec. 18. The Sounders open training camp Jan. 4.

“I wish nothing but for everybody to be healthy for next year,” Rusnak said. “It comes down to every player knowing how long you can afford to take completely off. That’s important, especially after a season like we just had (because) this group of players will be back next year, and we’ll be much better than what we were this year.”