SANDY — Following last week's hard-fought victory against the Galaxy, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis praised the effort of his two center backs and said they were absolutely exhausted dealing with L.A.'s countless balls into the box.
Fans are used to praise being heaped on center backs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave, but Chris Schuler is slowly but surely making a name for himself in MLS.
With Borchers still working his way back from offseason surgery, Schuler got the start last weekend and after a few shaky moments early in the match he settled in and was very good the rest of the way.
"Happy to get out of there with the points. Definitely think I made a few mistakes, but I think overall I was pretty solid," said Schuler.
Still just 24, Schuler says his confidence grows every time he steps on the field, which wasn't really in short supply to begin with.
From the first moment Kreis chatted with Schuler before Real Salt Lake drafted him in 2010, he sensed something unique about the unheralded defender.
"He's got a funny personality. He's the type of guy that I don't think gets flustered by anything," said Kreis.
Based on his contributions with Real Salt Lake last season, Schuler could probably be a first-choice center back on just about any other team in MLS. In Utah though, he's stuck behind veteran First XI defenders Borchers and Olave, but training alongside the duo is a big reason Schuler's game has evolved so quickly.
Between the U.S. Open Cup, Champions League and MLS regular season and playoffs, Schuler started 20 matches for Real Salt Lake last year. Borchers made 38 combined starters, with Olave getting 33 starts.
"His experience level is of course increasing. The more important games he plays in the better for his tactical knowledge and his calm in match situations," said Kreis.
When RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey and Kreis both took over in 2007, part of their master plan to rebuild the team was to increase the team's depth. Schuler is a prime example of that success.
"That's what we want in every single position. That is the objective of how we view the game and we want to build the team to have competition at every spot. We have it there, but we don't have it at every position yet," said Kreis.
Ironically enough, many thought RSL was poised to lose that depth at the end of the 2010 season in the Portland/Vancouver MLS expansion draft. Many mock drafts around the country had either Portland and Vancouver plucking up the 6-foot-4 Schuler in the 10-round draft, but instead they snagged David Horst and the Robbie Findley (who left for Europe).
Had one of them taken Schuler, Real Salt Lake's center back depth would have a completely different feel to it — and it's hard to imagine it would be as good.
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