Due to injuries to two Orlando City center backs and another joining the Egyptian National Team in preparation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, veteran center back Chris Schuler was provided his second start of the year Saturday night. Despite breaking his arm — per Jason Kreis in the post-game press conference — in the first half of the team’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire, Schuler’s ability to play under difficult circumstances will be key for the Lions in upcoming weeks.
To say Orlando City was shorthanded Saturday night would be a tremendous understatement. Yoshimar Yotún had departed to join Peru and Amro Tarek left to join Egypt ahead of next month’s World Cup. In addition to injuries to starting striker Dom Dwyer, right back Scott Sutter, and starting center back Jonathan Spector, Lamine Sané suffered an injury during the week and Will Johnson came down with an illness. This left Kreis with the only option of adding every player available to the team sheet, including all three goalkeepers.
In addition to an odd lineup that saw a pair of goalkeepers on the bench and midfielder Tony Rocha at center back, the absences provided an opportunity for Schuler, a 30-year-old defender, to start. The 2018 season certainly isn’t the first time Schuler has taken the field for Kreis. During his time at Real Salt Lake, Schuler spent four seasons playing under Kreis, making 50 appearances.
Being the fourth central defender on a team is a difficult role to hold. While they train as much as anyone, these players rarely see the field, usually only coming on late in games. But if there are injuries, that defender is expected to come in and play to a certain standard.
Suffering from poor play at the center back position in each of the past three seasons, Orlando City made significant changes to the position, only returning Jonathan Spector. The new additions to the team included Tarek, Sané, and Schuler. Tarek is currently with Egypt and Spector is still out due to suffering a pair of concussions earlier in the season, leaving only Schuler and Sané as the team’s natural center backs.
If he makes the final roster for the World Cup, Tarek will be with Egypt for well over a month, as the side’s final group game is on June 25, and it’s still unknown when Spector will be able to return. That leaves Schuler and Sané to handle the center back duties during a very difficult stretch, when the Lions will play five of their next six games on the road, as the team criss-crosses the country. That road-heavy schedule includes games against difficult opponents New York City FC, Atlanta United, and Los Angeles FC. With so many players sick, injured, and out on international duty, they’ll need everyone that can play just to put 18 men on the team sheet.
Assuming he continues to play through his injury, it’s a big ask for Schuler, who has only played two of the team’s 12 games so far this season, as he’s all of a sudden been thrown into a key role for the Lions. As expected, Sané has become a regular starter for Kreis. The former Werder Bremen player has played in nine games this season and started eight. But Schuler’s importance was much less expected, and will now be a critical part of Orlando City staying above the red line.
Making things more difficult for the center back is the fact that he will be playing injured. Schuler came out of the locker room for the second half Saturday night unable to move his left arm much and sporting a soft cast. Following the game, Kreis told reporters that his defender had broken his arm during the first half.
It won’t be the first time Schuler has played with such an injury. During the 2013 season with Real Salt Lake, Schuler fractured his hand in a game against Chivas USA. After his surgery the following day, Schuler went on to start the next four games, playing 90 minutes in each. With a depleted roster, Orlando City will depend on that persistence from the veteran in the coming weeks.
As Orlando City begins the toughest stretch of the season, it’ll do so with several key players missing. This will thrust some understudies into starting roles. Possibly the most important of those will be Schuler. Strong performances over the next month until the team regains its strength would be something not soon forgotten.