Without a doubt Chris Schuler has been one of the most unlucky players to play in Major League Soccer. Since joining Real Salt Lake he has not had a single season that some sort of injury had inhibited him playing at one time or another. The 27 year-old has become one of the most injury prone players in the league, lead alone the Claret-and-Cobalt, and the worst part is that they are absolutely random.
Schuler looked to be competitive for the complete season following an offseason surgery - but this optimistic expectation was short lived. After starting and excelling the first four matches of the season, Schuler skipped the fifth match against Sporting Kansas City for some much needed R-and-R. Then he was slated to start against the Vancouver Whitecaps and was a warmup scratch after a sudden twist and pivot ended in in a locked up knee. Schuler underwent a successful meniscectomy the preceding Monday.
Paradoxically, Schuler's exit from the starting XI corresponded to the Claret-and-Cobalt's drop in form. Even before his injury, RSL struggled against SKC in the first match he missed in 2015. Then with his injury, the Claret-and-Cobalt went on a four match winless streak.
Expected to miss 4-6 weeks, his absence soon grew to nearly two months. Schuler was then loaned to USL's Real Monarchs in a bid to increase his fitness as he worked his way back into the first team. He started and starred two consecutive matches for the Monarchs until he returned to RSL to play his final match of the season. Starting in a 3-1 lost to rivals Colorado Rapids, he looked sluggish and not up to par. Any further progress was further hampered by his nagging injury as he did not even make the eighteen-man game day roster for the rest of the season.
RSL was unable to recover from losing Schuler conceding a four year high 1.41 goals per match. RSL has suffered from the inconsistency of the center back pairings as silly miscues and miscommunications led to the club bleeding points throughout the season. While maybe not as apparent as his defensive contribution, the Claret-and-Cobalt also lost a scoring threat on set-pieces. Despite only scoring five goals across 80 appearances for RSL, Schuler has proven time and time again that he can be that clinch player when the club needs a hero.
Schuler will definitely be a hot topic this offseason as he is out of contract. While the defender suffered from yet another subpar year, it would be debilitating for RSL to lose such a dominating defensive presence. But with his recurring injury trend could this be the end of his time with the Claret-and-Cobalt? Furthermore, could RSL afford to lose Schuler with the veteran Olave's contract also expiring?
If we see Schuler back in a claret and cobalt kit in 2016 it will definitely be a relief. Schuler is without doubt one of the best central defenders in the MLS and under the banner of Old Glory. Despite being snubbed from the United States national team more than a couple times, it would be reasonable to assume that 2016 could be the year that Schuler finally breaks into the squad if he can finally put the injury bug to rest. With an ever-rotating backline, Schuler could the defensive lynchpin that Jurgen Klinsmann's side has lacked of recent.
Chris Schuler is definitely a success story for Real Salt Lake. From third-round draft pick to number one defensive player for his side, Schuler is a much a part of this side as the royal gold trim on the RSL kit. The final expectation for 2015 for this player would be for him to simply sign his name on the thin black line of a contract extension - and as we wait for that moment I believe I speak for all the fans of RSL when I say 'Get better soon.'