LEHI — Nobody ever doubted what Jamison Olave meant to Real Salt Lake, but the past month has revealed just how important he truly is.
Since Olave went down with a sprained knee in the MLS All-Star Game in late July, RSL has won just once in the past five games. RSL only lost four games throughout the entire 2010 season, and now it's lost four in a span of a month. It can't be a coincidence.
Olave, the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year, will likely be back in the lineup this Saturday at Chivas USA to try and help Real Salt Lake stop the bleeding. It will be a welcome sight for everyone associated with the club.
"He's one of the best defenders in the league for the past couple years now. I think the partnership that him and (Nat) Borchers have created is the best tandem in the league," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
Even though everyone is thrilled about the prospects of getting Olave back on the field, his five-game replacement, Chris Schuler, received nothing but praise from his teammates. Is it justified praise though?
With Schuler in the starting lineup RSL suffered through one of its worst stretches in two years with a 1-4 record and eight goals conceded. There were 10 other players on the field to share the blame in each of those loses, but Olave brings intangibles to the field Schuler can't duplicate and RSL sorely missed.
RSL coach Jason Kreis said they've missed Olave's ability to make a special defensive play.
"We talk about big players making big plays in some of these games, and a guy like Olave can sprint that five or 10 yards to close somebody down and make that game-saving tackle or a goal-saving tackle," said Kreis. "That can also be a big momentum builder. For the rest of the guys to see a really athletic, strong play like that can sometimes build momentum for everybody else."
Olave is arguably the most intimidating defender in MLS, and Andy Williams believes that physicality has been missing.
"Once you have a big guy out there, a lot of players are like 'alright, I'm not going into that,'" said Williams.
As Schuler evolves as a pro he's trying to add that extra bite to his game, but when you're 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, that's not nearly as intimidating as Olave's 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame.
"I think Schuler's done a great job no doubt about it, but (Olave's) one of the best in the league," said Beckerman. "When you have him back there, there's a lot of little things that are just a nonfactor 'cause he takes care of everything and makes it look so easy. Hopefully he'll be back and stay healthy for the rest of the season."