SANDY, Utah — Much has been made about how Real Salt Lake are returning essentially the same team that reach the finals of both the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup in 2013. But there's something else that's already looking like last season: injuries.
RSL endured more injuries last year than in any of the previous eight seasons of the team's existence. And three important players may miss Saturday's season opener against the LA Galaxy due to injuries.
This is the third year in a row that Schuler (above) has struggled with a foot injury. He returned to the lineup just as the playoffs were about to begin, and played a huge role in RSL's run to the final. He not only was a major presence on the backline, but he scored two goals, his first since 2011.
“Chris is making great progress,” new head coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “But we want to make sure we give him a platform to succeed. We don't want to put him out there too early and have any setbacks, either mentally or physically.”
Because as far as RSL management is concerned, the sky is the limit for the 26-year-old defender.
“I think Chris can be an elite player,” said Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey. “I think his potential is national team. ... He was called in to the national team in January. He passed it up to have surgery on his foot.
“His head's in the right place in terms of his commitment to our team and trying to get himself right for the season. But it's also more people than just us that think he can play at that level, if we can get him healthy once and for all, and then progress him to where we think he can go.”
Schuler played 30 minutes in one preseason match, 45 in another and 60 in RSL's most recent match.
“He's getting really close,” Cassar said, but he won't be ready to go on Saturday.
Findley was plagued by nagging injuries throughout 2013, and he ruptured his patellar tendon in the MLS Cup final. He had surgery days later and is not expected back in the lineup for several weeks.
Sandoval spent the latter part of the season dealing with a broken bone in his foot. He reinjured it days before the MLS Cup final and was out for that game. He had surgery on it in the offseason and is still rehabbing.
“It's a tiny little bone,” said RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey. “It was fracture, healed and then we had an x-ray that scared us a little bit,” Lagerwey said. “And then we had a second [x-ray] and it looks OK again.”
The doctors are now calling it a bone bruise, and the team is “going to basically go two weeks with giving him some rest,” Lagerwey said.