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Chris Kamrani
Chris Kamrani covers Real Salt Lake for the Tribune.

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RSL's Chris Schuler proved his unexpected promotion was right move in Champions League

Don't ever accuse defender Chris Schuler of not knowing his place on the team.

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Asked what he thought his chances were of cracking the starting lineup more regularly, after his bravura performance in place of defender Nat Borchers in the team's victory over Columbus in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, Schuler did not hesitate for even a moment.

"Slim to none," he said with a chuckle.

That's because the team has Borchers and MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave anchored in central defense, and Schuler still just in his second year as a pro.

But with Borchers suspended for the second leg of the quarterfinals with a red card in the first leg, Schuler stepped in surprisingly well after having recovered fully from last season's broken foot only last week. He'd had only a few full-scale training sessions before his unexpected promotion, but proved to coaches he deserved the spot over fellow reserve Rauwshan McKenzie.

"It was extremely difficult" to choose, Kreis said. "It took a little bit of faith. … The rational decision was to play Rauwshan. Was leaning that way, all week. But again, we say over and over — and I think people don't believe us at times — but what you do in the training sessions matters. And Rauwshan struggled a little bit in training this week, and Chris stepped forward."

Schuler "convinced us he needed to play," Kreis added.

When he did, Schuler was so smooth and efficient in the 4-1 victory at home on Tuesday that you almost didn't notice he was out there. Of course, he did nearly score on a header that caromed off the crossbar, and generally looked a lot like the player who had so impressed the coaches as a rookie in limited duty last season. Kreis said he played "excellent."

"It felt good to be out there again," Schuler said. "It's been a long time since I've been on the field competitively."

Only trouble is, it might be awhile before he gets back out there again. Borchers is due back from suspension when RSL plays either Saprissa or Olimpia in the Champions League semifinals starting at home on March 15.



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