CARSON, Calif. — The last time Real Salt Lake faced the LA Galaxy, things did not go well for the Claret and Cobalt. Robbie Keane sliced up the RSL defense, scoring three second-half goals to lead L.A. to a 4-2 win that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
RSL are hoping the result is different on Sunday night when it faces L.A. In the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal. One thing that will definitely be different is that Chris Schuler will be back in the lineup and — if all goes as planned — providing a more intimidating look, getting in the way of Keane and Landon Donovan.
“Yeah, I definitely think I bring somewhat of a physical presence to the game,” Schuler told MLSsoccer.com. “I enjoy filling that spot on the field. One of my former coaches used to say, 'Some people carry the piano, some people play it.' I'm definitely a piano carrier.”
RSL coach Jason Kreis said the plan this season was to have Schuler fill the shoes of Jamison Olave, who was traded to New York to clear salary cap space after the 2012 season.
“[Schuler] was the one that we had planned on learning to be a bit more of a physical presence for us in the center-back pairing with Nat Borchers,” Kreis told reporters. “Nat, we feel, is the leader and the communicator back there and Olave was always the physical, athletic presence that would sometimes put a little bit of fear into opposing forwards.”
But Schuler, a 6-4, 185-pound center-back, spent much of the season on the sidelines with a left-foot injury. He sat out four months in 2012 with a stress fracture in the same foot, and so RSL held him out much of 2013 trying to prevent another fracture.
He got back on the field for a reserve match on Aug. 31 and promptly sprained his ankle. A month later, he finally returned to the starting lineup -- his first start since mid-May -- and now he's finding his form.
“He performing at a level that is actually higher than before he left,” Kreis said. “He was playing through an injury … so we think he's a little bit more of a physical presence for us. And, hopefully, a guy that can partner well with Borchers.
“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.”
Even if those forwards are the high-paid, high-profile Galaxy duo.
“Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan are great players,” Schuler said. “They're world-class players, in my opinion. So I like to match up against players like that.”