San Jose Earthquakes' Billy Schuler could make MLS debut Sunday vs. former coach Gregg Berhalter

San Jose's Billy Schuler and Seattle's Djimi Traore

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. – With San Jose Earthquakes forward Steven Lenhart expected to miss at least a month with a sprained knee ligament, Billy Schuler's reunion weekend might get a little more interesting.

Instead of simply catching up with Gregg Berhalter – his former coach at Swedish club Hammarby – and ex-college teammate Ben Speas, Schuler could make his MLS debut Sunday against Berhalter’s Columbus Crew squad (3 pm ET, UniMas).

“We haven’t talked much since he was coaching me over at Hammarby, so it’ll be good to see him,” Schuler told reporters at a recent training in reference to Berhalter. “And it’ll be a good matchup. ... Hopefully, I’ll get some time.”

Starting Schuler is not the most likely scenario for the Quakes. Veteran Alan Gordon, who is “pretty close” to full fitness in coach Mark Watson’s view, would provide a like-for-like target man to replace Lenhart, as would second-year forward Adam Jahn.

But Schuler, who joined the Quakes via a weighted lottery after his return from two seasons in Sweden, has been pushing to earn playing time. The biggest problem for the former North Carolina All-American – who won the 2011 NCAA title with Speas – is that his most natural position, as a second forward, overlaps with the skill set of San Jose captain Chris Wondolowski.

“I’m sure Billy would relish the chance to get on the field and play his old coach,” Watson told reporters. “He’d probably relish the chance just to get on the field in general. He’s only played the game in Toluca, which was a difficult game, but he did really well. He’s someone that deserves playing time.”

Using Schuler or newcomer Yannick Djaló up top would require a tactical shift that has been rare to see from the Quakes in recent years.

“We look at all our options,” Watson said. “I think this team is built a certain way, or has been in the past. We play with a target player and Wondo, essentially. But we look at a lot of different situations. It may be a shift in terms of those types of players, or it may be a shift for a specific game, that one option may cause them some problems.”

Whoever fills in for Lenhart will be asked to cause problems for the opposition. Through San Jose’s first three MLS matches, Lenhart drew 5.23 fouls per 90 minutes, and the Quakes have plenty of weapons to turn those kind of set pieces into dangerous chances.

“It’s a rough one for us with Lenny, but guys are going to have to step up while he’s out,” Schuler said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for the other guys to step in. We’ll see. If the coach puts me in, then I’ll be ready.”