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Richard Lipski, AP
Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler (left) makes contact with DC United forward Chris Pontius (13) as he bumps him off the ball during first half of their MLS soccer game, Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)

SANDY — Each offseason, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis works closely with strength and conditioning coach Dan Barlow to tailor specific workout programs for each player.

Some have a regime geared more toward fitness, some toward weight lifting, while for others the focus is stretching.

Along with a mix of each of those, this year fourth-year defender Chris Schuler was also asked to take it easy. He missed four months last season with a stress fracture in his foot, and Kreis isn’t convinced it was just bad luck.

“He’s always had a tendency to go back to Chicago in the offseason and get out there and play, and guess what, when you play in Chicago in the winter, you’re playing on turf. I think that’s always had somewhat of an effect on him, so we asked him not to do that,” said Kreis.

With the departure of all-star defender Jamison Olave this offseason, Kreis stressed with Schuler the importance of taking care of his body in every way possible. RSL can’t afford to have Schuler miss half the season again if it expects to contend for a playoff spot in 2013.

Around the league, many agree the only thing holding Schuler back from an all-star selection — and possible national team consideration — is proving he can stay healthy.

It’s something Schuler is taking more seriously than ever.

“As I’ve had more professional experience, it’s something I’ve picked up from some of the older guys like Nat (Borchers) and Tony (Beltan). There’s things you see them doing, at first you don’t feel like you quite have to, but as you understand the importance of them you start to do them,” said Schuler.

Whether it’s avoiding pick-up games at the local indoor center back home, eating better or managing his activity better following training sessions, Schuler is trying to be more proactive about avoiding injuries.

“Certain injuries, there’s nothing you can do about it, but there are little things you can do on and off the field,” said Schuler. “There’s a lot of little things you can do that I’ve been trying to do.”

Through two games this season, it’s paid off. Schuler was strong in both Real Salt Lake games thus far, a win in San Jose and a loss at D.C. United.

“He’s done fantastic. He hasn’t missed a step from last year and the last couple years,” said Nick Rimando. “He’s on the way up, the sky is the limit for him. I really think the first two games have been fantastic, and if he continues to play like that we’re not going to miss a beat in the back.”

Schuler started just nine games last season because of the stress fracture picked up in Seattle on May 12. He suffered several setbacks in his recovery process and ultimately missed 15 games.

Throughout the frustrating four months, Schuler said he tried to get away from soccer as much as possible so as to not dwell on the injury.

“It’s difficult to be so close to something you want so bad, but not be able to have it,” said Schuler.

With Olave now with the New York Red Bulls, Schuler has the starting spot he’s long craved and he’ll do everything in his power to keep it.

Kreis doesn’t expect anything less, either.

“From day one that Chris has been here, he’s just had this demeanor about him that he knows when it’s game time. He knows when he steps onto the training field everyday it’s time to perform and it’s time to work,” said Kreis. “He just has that un-teachable quality about him, that mental toughness that you really, really appreciate.”