Rubio Rubin was eager to kick off his new chapter in MLS on a positive note and the American forward did just that in a season-opening win with Real Salt Lake.
Rubin registered a pair of assists for Freddy Juarez’s side on Saturday night, playing 78 minutes in a 2-1 road victory over Minnesota United. The 25-year-old lined up in the heart of the RSL attacking front and worked well with fellow debutant Anderson Julio, who slotted away both of Rubin’s assists.
“I think it is always important for confidence, it’s great,” RSL head coach Freddy Juarez said about the fast start from the duo. “We know their qualities. We brought them for a reason. We thought they would mesh well with the group’s strengths and they’ve fit in well. They had very good preseasons and they’ve already shown us in multiple games why they are starting and it wasn’t any different today.”
“It is always great to start on the front foot for confidence reasons. It was nice for them to get the goals and to get some momentum, but was also nice for you guys and the fans to see why the front office brought them in. They were players that we thought would help us and they did. It doesn’t always fall that way in your debut, in the season opener, but we’re glad it did.”
RSL sucked the air out of the Minnesota United faithful by scoring both of its goals in a 10-minute span before halftime. A pair of counterattacks sparked by Loons mistakes gave RSL the advantage in the opening half, with Rubin and Julio playing vital roles on both of those moves.
The second goal came off a turnover by Loons left back Chase Gasper, who cheaply gave away possession in his own half. Rubin sprung the attack and once again fed across the 18-yard box to Julio for a simple finish. It was a pair of determined finishes by the RSL attack, who looked lively in its first 90 minutes of the new season.
“Rubio played a massive role in the second goal and throughout the game,” RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak said. “It was a very good performance. He was holding the balls up top and at times it wasn’t easy for him because he was alone there. But as I said, the grind got us the three points today.”
Rubin, who has earned seven caps with the USMNT, has found it tough to find consistency in his club career, after last playing in the USL after spells in Mexico, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. After a strong half season with Landon Donovan and the San Diego Loyal in 2020, Rubin earned himself a first-ever move to MLS.
Now after getting off to a fast start in Week 1, the 25-year-old forward is hoping to build off his debut and help RSL to more victories and points in the coming weeks.
“I’m just happy to be able to play my part in the win and it gives us a load of confidence going into next weekend,” Rubin said. “Obviously, this is my first MLS game ever and my first in the U.S. as a professional, so even just to be able to go out there and get my legs under me, to see what it’s really like in an official season game it feels good. To be able to do that today and get the win only gives me confidence.”
RSL struggled to get many of its attacking players going in a shortened 2020 campaign, one that saw them finish in 11th place in the Western Conference and record a Conference-low 25 goals scored in 22 matches. Now with Julio and Rubin joining Rusnak, Bobby Wood, and Damir Kreilach in the offensive set up, Juarez can come up with several different looks for his formation and plans going forward.
Not only can Rubin set up his teammates like he did on Saturday night, but he also provides strong hold up play and is a threat to score goals himself. Rubin will have to wait to celebrate his first MLS goal, but Juarez remains very happy with what’s to come from his newest arrival.
“What Rubio offers is hold up play and that’s our DNA,” Juarez said. “We want the ball when we can, get it on the ground and let players like Albert, Pablo and Damir get into the game. But also when we can’t, like today when we were under so much pressure and their team putting us under so much stress, we can play a ball in the air.”
“He was having to deal with good centerbacks and he was still able to do that and then get in behind them and stretch them a little bit,” Juarez said. “It was important to us. Then we make the sub and put in Douglas and he gives us some of that more dynamic, in behind play and really stretches out their center backs. It was a good combination of having both. Rubio gave us those good 75 minutes and he was super valuable in all of those minutes.”
RSL next hosts Sporting KC at Rio Tinto Stadium on May 1st.