Real Salt Lake: Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert fill in at center back
Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images
SEATTLE — Jason Kreis had a very difficult decision to make leading into Wednesday's playoff game with Seattle — what to do at center back?
Neither Jamison Olave nor Nat Borchers were healthy enough to play with quadriceps strains picked up in the first game, and only one of Kreis' options was ideal. Chris Schuler was an obvious starter with 16 starts to his credit this year, not to mention playing 60 minutes as a substitute in the first game against the Sounders.
The second center back spot was the big question mark. Rauwshan McKenzie was the only other center back on the team, but he'd only made two starts all year.
"When you get to the playoffs you're looking for guys that have enough experience and have been there and done that before," said Kreis.
The options Kreis toyed with was shifting either Robbie Russell or Chris Wingert into the middle. In the end, Kreis went with Wingert and hoped for the best. Wingert has never played center back for RSL, but it's a position he wasn't entirely unfamiliar with having played there a bit during stints with Columbus and Colorado.
"Wingert felt like he wanted to do it and felt more comfortable doing it," said Kreis.
The combination of Schuler and Wingert was by no means great as RSL lost Wednesday's second leg 2-0, but Kreis admitted it wasn't going to be easy for anyone.
"It wasn't perfect certainly, and to be fair it was a night where our center backs were going to be very busy," said Kreis.
Like his coach, Wingert went into the match with hopes of a better overall performance, but considering the deficit Seattle face it was never going to be easy.
"Those games, it's not very fun. I hate to say it, but you almost know it's going to be like that," said Wingert. "I don't know what it is, that's just the nature of the game."
BOR-LAVE: Throughout the 2011 MLS season, RSL's record when Olave and Borchers both started at center back was noticeably more impressive when they didn't.
When "Bor-Lave" started side-by-side this year, RSL's record was 10-4-8, including last Saturday's playoff victory. When there was any other combination of center back, RSL was 6-7-0.
Interestingly enough, in the only game this year that neither Borchers nor Olave started, RSL prevailed at New England 2-0 with Chris Schuler and Rauwshan McKenzie starting at center back.
COMEBACK KID: Tony Beltran picked a heck of a game to return to the lineup for RSL. Sidelined since Sept. 10 with a groin strain, Beltran started and played 90 minutes in the second playoff game against Seattle on Wednesday.
It was his first appearance since a 35-minute stint at Seattle on Sept. 10. In that match, Beltran was red-carded in the 35th minute, and then he picked up the injury in training the final week.
He atoned for that red card in a big way on Wednesday in the 36th minute as he denied Seattle's Jeff Parke a goal with a diving header.
"It was a split-second reaction, and fortunately I was able to parry it over the bar," said Beltran.
Even though it wasn't a pretty performance collectively by RSL, Beltran said it was certainly satisfying.
"Sometimes winning those kind of games when you hold out like that is more rewarding than playing good soccer," said Beltran.
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