KANSAS City, Kan. – Though Real Salt Lake’s MLS Cup clash with Sporting Kansas City represents one of the biggest games of many of players’ careers, it could lead to even bigger things for the likes of RSL defenders Tony Beltran and Chris Schuler, both of whom have started to break into the national team discussion after strong showings in 2013.
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has long stressed the need for his players to play in big games on big stages, and as far as MLS goes, it doesn’t get much bigger than Saturday's title match (4 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas in the US; TSN2/RDS in Canada).
It's a fact Beltran, who earned his first US cap in a January friendly against Canada, is keenly aware of.
“There’s no doubt about it -- this is a high-profile game, this is a high-pressure game and I’m sure Jurgen is excited that players that are involved in the national team are in these games, because this is how you elevate your career,” Beltran told MLSsoccer.com on Friday.
“Big players want to play in big games and you get better from doing that. So of course I’m a little cognizant of that and I’m sure he’s watching, I hope he’s watching, but of course my attention is with RSL.”
Added Schuler, “This game will definitely get more attention because it’s a final. These are the most fun to play in because they’re the most important.”
And though Schuler said he has not heard from the national team staff yet, a strong performance in Saturday’s final will likely only further the chance it happens after putting up as strong a season as any MLS center back despite missing the middle part of the season through injury and appearing in just 16 games.
And though both players are keenly aware of the opportunities in front of them, their coach stressed that they – and other players – should not be getting recognition for one game alone, but their greater body of work.
“I hope that guys get opportunities like that and chances to play for the national team or bigger stages based on what they do over a year, two year, three years,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis told reporters on Friday. “I hope that nobody’s going to watch one game and say all of a sudden, ‘This guy deserves a chance’ or all of a sudden, ‘This guy doesn’t deserve a chance,’ because it’s all about consistency.”
That measure bodes well for the pair; Schuler, when healthy, proved himself more than capable of filling the big shoes left by the departed Jamison Olave, while Beltran put together another consistent season and appeared in one USMNT game as Klinsmann's side stormed its way to the 2013 Gold Cup title.
If all goes well for RSL on Saturday, he might just find himself there again, with another club teammate for company.