SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Last November, when expansion teams Portland and Vancouver started plucking unprotected players from existing MLS teams, the general consensus was that one of them was bound to snag RSL rookie Chris Schuler in the expansion draft.

And why not? What's not to love about an athletic, 6-foot-4 center back who showed very well in his four appearances with the club in 2010?

Neither Portland nor Vancouver were convinced of Schuler's upside, and Real Salt Lake couldn't be happier.

Schuler got the starting nod on Saturday night in place of injured center back Jamison Olave, his second replacement start of the season. Back on March 1 in the second leg of RSL's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with Columbus, Schuler got the start as well in place of suspended Nat Borchers.

In 2010 Schuler started just four of RSL's 40 matches, but already this year he's started two of four.

A year ago RSL's depth at center back was rarely needed as Borchers and Olave were almost always healthy and available. That hasn't been the case this year, and RSL is thrilled neither Portland nor Vancouver thought more highly of Schuler.

The way he's playing so far this season, his stock is definitely rising.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS: San Jose advanced to the conference finals last year, and current RSL midfielder Arturo Alvarez was a big part of that success.

On Saturday he returned to Buck Shaw Stadium for the first time, but not as a starter. And even though his attention is with Real Salt Lake these days, he expects big things from his ex-team this year.

"We had a great end to the season last year, so it's going to be a good year for them," said Alvarez.

The El Salvadoran international said he expected a solid effort from the Earthquakes in Saturday's MLS opener for both teams, especially after they lost to RSL 3-0 in last year's opener.

"That's kind of one of the memories that was stuck in our head the whole year, the first game of the season last year against Real Salt Lake and losing 3-0 at home," said Alvarez.

TAKING A LEAVE: Alvarez, Alvaro Saborio and Will Johnson will leave Real Salt Lake this week to participate in their respective international friendlies next week.

Canadian Johnson will be in Turkey for an exhibition match against Belarus on Tuesday, March 29.

Alvarez will join El Salvador for a pair of matches. The first will be on the road in Cuba on Thursday, and second will be a home match against Jamaica.

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Saborio will be in Costa Rica for a pair of matches as his country inaugurates National Stadium in San Jose. The Ticos' first match will be against China on Thursday and the second will be against world power Argentina on Sunday, March 29.

The trio will be unavailable for RSL's home opener against the Galaxy next Saturday, but Johnson understands the situation.

"It's not an ideal situation. But with the national team you can't pick and choose which game you want to go to," said Johnson. "Yeah, L.A. is probably the best home game we have all year and I'd love to play, but you can't start picking and choosing."