Analysis

So, your MLS team missed the playoffs? Time to make this player its centerpiece

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Real Salt Lake: Albert Rusnak

Orlando Ramirez - USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez - USA TODAY Sports

The 23-year-old Slovakian playmaker was brought in from Dutch club Groningen in 2017, and he did not disappoint. Rusnak racked up seven goals and 14 assists in his first season in Claret and Cobalt, and it was his ability underneath the front line that really got RSL going in the second half of the season. Rusnak had just three goals and five assists through the end of June, but as Real Salt Lake got its U.S. Under-20 players back and got fully healthy, he thrived under new coach Mike Petke.

RSL will have some room to build. How the team handles its veteran contracts will play a big role in what it looks like, as does how it deals with the Designated-Player deal of forward Yura Movsisyan. The pieces management puts in place, though, will be done to complement Rusnak’s passing in the final third. RSL nearly made the playoffs this season after the second-half surge. It can be a top postseason team next year by adding the right pieces around Rusnak.

- Paul Tenorio

FC Dallas: Mauro Diaz

Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Kellyn Acosta. Carlos Gruezo. Walker Zimmerman. Jesse Gonzalez. They’re four enviable young talents, but they’re four players whose names have already joined Maxi Urruti’s and Michael Barrios’ as potential departures from Dallas this offseason. After the team’s epic collapse over the season’s last four months, it could be an active offseason in Frisco.

One person who is likely to stay is midfielder Mauro Diaz, not only because of his irreplaceable importance at the heart of FC Dallas’ formation, but because of the season he just endured. Recovering from a late-2016 Achilles tear, Diaz was not at his best, but the talent to be one of the league’s elite playmakers is still there. With a full offseason, a normal preseason, and an injury-free 2018, Diaz will be back to his former, Best XI-caliber self.

Until he is, Dallas would be selling low, should Diaz have a chance to go. And that assumes he would even want to leave. Until that day comes, though, Diaz and Matt Hedges are cornerstone players. Diaz’ skillset, however, is much harder to replace.

- Richard Farley

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