By the end of the 2015 U20 World Cup, Rubio Rubin appeared to have his career by the tail.
Rubin’s performances over the course of the U.S.’s stirring run to the quarterfinals were notable, enough so that Utrecht, the Dutch club for whom he’d signed a five-year deal less than a year earlier, was counting its blessings it had not waited to offer. His leverage seemed to skyrocket after he put in the deciding goal in a 1-0 win over Colombia in the first knockout round that felt something like history.
In that context, with what we thought we knew about Rubin in 2015, his 2017 has been downright miserable. And he might’ve just been extended a life raft.
The big Americans abroad news this week comes to us by way of Norway, and specifically Bob Bradley’s old club Stabaek. Rubin has joined. This is something of a restart for Rubin, who fell victim to a coaching change at Utrecht and fell out of favor with the new boss. Despite signing a four-year deal in 2014, he was cut from his contract and ultimately landed with middling Silkeborg in Denmark for the remainder of the season. After that fizzled following the conclusion of the year, Rubin’s been a bit of a nomad this summer.
Which is where Stabaek stepped in. Rubin’s contract is reportedly “valid for the season,” according to the club, and a strong string of performances should secure his stay. Stabaek is no also-ran in Norway, and the club is familiar with occasional stints in Europe. Last season, it finished just three points off the Europa League pace.
There is a general perception that lower-rung clubs in upper-middle class European club neighborhoods are invariably better for young Americans abroad. There is truth to this, of course, but it’s important to remember that the disruptive winds of change blow across big and small clubs alike. Rubin didn’t jive with new leadership at Utrecht, and it would’ve been the same had he been anywhere. The lesson in this is that even in smaller club environments, success should never be overlooked. It’s a desperate slog no matter the location.
Rubin remains an intriguing pro prospect, but his limitations have largely been defined by his lack of an obvious strong, singular position. In Stabaek’s introductory press release, Stabaek sporting director Inge André Olsen noted Rubin can play “multiple positions,” basically blindly pointing at the entire attacking third in noting he can play forward, winger or the No. 10 (the direct translation is “tip, edge, number 10,” which is kind of great). That to me indicates the club isn’t even sure where he’s best utilized even in a general sense. That can be problematic if that definition is never more narrowly defined, something Utrecht seemed to struggle with.
The bonus is that Rubin will be given space to find himself in Norway. Olsen also noted that Rubin is coming to the club after being unsettled at a previous destination, “and we are not quite unfamiliar with getting new Stabaek players that way.” Those are the words of a man acclimated to a good player reclamation project. And good as Rubin can be, he’s currently in need of one.