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Sciaretta's Scouting Report

Chris Schuler Hopes Strong MLS Cup Leads to U.S.

The Real Salt Lake center defender has been excellent since returning from a foot injury and believes Saturday's MLS Cup final presents a chance for him to impress Jurgen Klinsmann. He'd also like to win.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 03, 2013
4:08 PM
Entering into the season, Real Salt Lake was a mystery team. Jamison Olave Will Johnson, and Fabian Espindola were gone and it was unclear how the team would respond.

Fast forward nine months and RSL finds itself on the verge of battling Sporting Kansas City for MLS Cup on Saturday. While much of the credit deservedly goes to head coach Jason Kreis, fantastic individual performances have spurred the club during a playoff defeats of the Portland Timbers and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Chris Schuler stands tall at the top of the list. He has been arguably the league’s best player in the postseason, helping to shut down two of the league’s best attacks while also scoring a pair of goals for himself.

After missing a significant part of the season due to an injury, the 26 year old Schuler is confident with the team heading into the finals. “I’m playing pretty well and I feel good,” Schuler told American Soccer now. “I wasn’t available for awhile coming back from injury so it’s cool to be healthy in these big games. We had a huge matchup against Los Angeles and we were successful coming off that. Then Portland was another good team that we had to handle. These playoff games are high quality. Kansas City is a great team. They’ve earned their position in the championship and I feel great about matching up against them. Our team is playing well and everything is going in the right direction. I have a lot of confidence.”

Over the past month, Schuler has seen his stock soar. While he is new to the spotlight, he insists it is not something that will affect him as he generally avoids reading media reports on either himself or Real Salt Lake. “I don’t spend a lot of time reading or watching my own press,” Schuler said. “What is most important to me and us as a team is how we feel inside the locker room. There is always going to be outside speculation but what’s most important is what is going on the inside.”

Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis has been very happy to have Schuler back in the lineup after his foot injury forced him out of action from May until September. Since his return, RSL has lost just once in eight games. “He performing at a level that is actually higher than before he left,” Kreis said recently of his 6-foot-4. “He was playing through an injury. We think he's a little bit more of a physical presence for us. I think that he gives us just a little bit of a different dimension. He gives us a player who can physically put a little bit of fear into forwards. That's something we've lacked.”

Injuries have slowed Schuler in recent years. After an impressive season in 2011 during which he made 20 appearances, he was limited in 2012 to just 13 games because of a foot injury. It was a similar problem to the one that plagued him this season. Soon after he was medically cleared to return to train, Schuler wanted to play. Instead, Kreis held him out for several more weeks before finally putting him back in the starting lineup. At first it was frustrating for Schuler but now he believes it was the right call.

“A head coach can be one of the most influential people in a player’s life,” Schuler said. “They control everything—when you’re playing and when you’re not. Jason has helped me out a lot. He’s helped everyone on the team a lot. I have constant support from the coach. There is great line of communication. He sets a very concise goal. We know what our team wants to do and we know who we are. That starts with him. I know that it is not the same across the league.”

For now, Schuler will continue to concentrate on what he can control and that is MLS Cup. Still he does admit that he does have international aspirations. As a young player, he was never one of the nation’s elite prospects. He had a brief run with the U.S U-18 team but it did not last long.

When he looks around the league, he sees top central defenders such as Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez on the verge of heading to Brazil next year for the World Cup. The thought of playing for the U.S team once seemed like a long shot for Schuler but the circumstances have changed quickly. Saturday will present the opportunity to make a strong case to Jurgen Klinsmann for him to be part of next month’s January camp.

“I’d say it’s more attainable now than it was six months ago,” Schuler said of the national team. “I wasn’t playing for a chunk of the middle of the season and I wasn’t healthy. I am healthy now. It’s a great goal to aspire to. It’s a top honor. It means you’re one of the best players in the country. But it’s out of my hands now. All I can do is play and do what I can do to lift my team in the championship. If I do that, the rest will fall in line.”

“I’ve always had confidence as a player and you always try to live up to the example you see yourself in your mind,” he added. “That’s not always easy to do. I always try to put my best foot forward. I know what I’m capable of and it goes from there.”

Brian Sciaretta is an ASN contributor. Find him on Twitter @briansciaretta.

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