MLS Cup 2013: Chris Schuler's return could be difference between MLS Cup, playoff exit

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

We've talked a lot about Chris Schuler in recent weeks. It's easy to see why: The defender has come back into the side and steadied the ship, taking us to an MLS Cup final in the process. And it wasn't like he was simply a player involved in that return to power: He was one of the dominant forces.

That goal he scored against LA Galaxy, the one he scored against Portland Timbers -- those sorts of goals reflect his influence. It plays out in results, too: Since returning against Vancouver Whitecaps in September, RSL has lost only one game with him in the side, and that was the first leg against LA Galaxy.

Those wins, of course, aren't down to only him, but his influence in those is unmistakable. When he's towering over players to score a goal, or displaying surprising agility to get around them and win the ball in a dangerous area, it's clear he's more than a simple center back. He is one of those "special" players Jason Kreis searches for -- players that can score goals at difficult moments, that can influence the game in meaningful ways.

Chris Schuler, though, doesn't think he's a special player.

Jeff Carlisle of ESPN FC spoke to Schuler, penning a piece on the defender's comeback. Schuler has this fantastic statement, and we can really derive a fair bit from it: "My philosophy when I'm playing is, 'I'm not special.' I know I'm going to have to work hard to have any success. Part of that hard work is trying to communicate because I'm not a talented enough individual to go out there and do my own thing."

Watching Schuler play for RSL's reserves offers a unique view on the player. During the hubbub of a match, hearing a shout on the field is difficult at best, even on television. But in the relative calm of an MLS Reserve League match, Schuler stands above all others -- and not simply in stature. He's constantly barking at those around him -- whether he's partnering Nat Borchers, Aaron Maund or Carlos Salcedo. His full backs are always being advised when to push up, when to drop back. Schuler's volume and aggression solidifies the players around him -- and none of them are bad defenders by a long shot.

As somebody with the full view of the field for 95 percent of the match, a central defender needs not only to be communicative, but they need to be aware and accurate in their advice. When Schuler's barking for Tony Beltran to push up, or Lovel Palmer to drop back, or Abdoulie Mansally to shift into a wider spot, there's always a sense that he's making the right calls.

With that sort of talent and effort comes recognition, quite naturally: American Soccer Now's Brian Sciaretta spoke to Schuler about his goals and aspirations. Top of the list was of course the MLS Cup, but he's aware that good performances could lead to a January camp call-up by US coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Schuler, on a call-up: "...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."

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