SANDY, Utah – There was something different at Real Salt Lake training Tuesday, a sight no one had seen for three months: Defender Chris Schuler was in boots and running around the pitch.
Schuler has been out with a left foot bone stress response, or the beginnings of a stress fracture, since RSL's 1-0 win over Seattle back on May 12. Originally set to miss four to six weeks, Schuler is finally back on the field 13 weeks later with a clean bill of health.
"Pretty frustrating, but it's good to be back," he said of the length of his recovery.
"We are looking forward now. You just do what you can. You have to take it one day at a time – that's how I got myself here without killing myself," he joked.
When Schuler went out, RSL was on top of the table and playing well, but during his time out they started to falter and all he could do was give moral support.
"The most frustrating part is just watching when you feel like you could be out there making a difference," said Schuler. "I could have added to the depth. We have had some injuries to a few different guys out there and it would have been nice to add depth to keep our defensive back strong."
Before he went out, Schuler was playing some of the best soccer of his life. He had started seven of the team's nine games, and he had firmly entrenched himself as the first defender off the bench or a starter filling in for injuries. But 12 weeks later, his role is uncertain.
"That is the nature of professional sports – unfortunate, but injuries happen," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "It's not going to affect what we think of Chris Schuler over the long term, but he is going to come back in and have to compete with Kwame [Watson-Siriboe] for consideration on who we play if there are injuries. We also happen to have Mr. [Jámison] Olave down right now, so maybe Schuler comes in before Olave and now Olave has a lot of competition before him."
There is still a long ways to go in getting Schuler back on the field in front of Olave, who is recovering from a left hamstring strain. But Kreis acknowledged Tuesday was a step in the right direction.
"You want to see players like that move forward, take steps forward. Today was certainly a step in the right direction, but we'll see how he recovers from it tomorrow and what his pain is like," the coach explained. "Schuler is still a ways away from being able to play soccer, but he took his first real positive step forward in the last month, month-and-a-half."
Schuler knows he does have a long way to go, but he hopes he can get there quickly.
"It's a progression," said Schuler. "I've been doing what I can while I was out to keep my fitness up, but from here on, we try to progress past technical into more and more practice. From there, we just try to get on the 18-man roster. It's just a progression. We are not going to be able to do it all in one day, it's going to take a little bit of time."