Real Salt Lake seemed to be taking a huge risk when it included veteran defender Jamison Olave among the starters it traded away last winter.
A couple of younger players with Chicago ties are making sure RSL doesn’t miss Olave.
Former Chicago Fire center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe, 26, has often partnered on the RSL back line this season with Aurora native Chris Schuler, a 25-year-old Waubonsie Valley High School graduate who had played every minute of every game this season until coach Jason Kreis gave him the game off last weekend against Chivas USA.
The pair are part of the reason RSL is 6-5-2 and in second place in the Western Conference as it prepares to host the Fire on Saturday (8 p.m., Channel 50).
“I like playing with Kwame,” said Schuler, who has split his time between center back and left back. “He brings a lot to the game as well. He’s huge. He’s probably one of the best shot blockers in the league.”
Watson-Siriboe played 10 games his rookie year, starting seven, but was loaned out his second season and traded to RSL his third year, 2012, without having played for the Fire that year.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Watson-Siriboe said. “At the time I was definitely frustrated in myself. I started to not believe in myself and second-guessing myself.”
Veteran Fire players such as Jon Busch and C.J. Brown, now a RSL assistant coach, told him to keep working and to stay confident, words of encouragement Watson-Siriboe cherishes to this day.
Watson-Siriboe said he holds no ill feelings about his departure from the Fire.
“Not at all,” he said. “At the end of the day, I wasn’t in the manager’s plans, which is fine. Now all you’ve got to do is push on and push forward.”
Watson-Siriboe’s career has taken a big step forward since going to Utah. He’s getting regular playing time, and he’s making the most of it for one of the league’s strongest franchises.
“It’s something that I definitely want to continue to perform and grab my opportunity and run with it. It’s been hard work and it’s been very stressful at times,” the 6-foot-3 Watson-Siriboe said, mentioning Brown as a father figure and mentor who helped him through the tough times and with his adjustment to a new club. “Jason likes the way I play and has given me a second chance.”
Kreis also has had a lot of praise for Schuler, mentioning the 6-4 defender as a possible national team player.
“I hope so,” Schuler said. “It’s something you have to earn, and I haven’t earned it yet.”
Injuries have been a problem for Schuler since RSL drafted him in the third round of the MLS SuperDraft out of Creighton in 2010. It’s a reason he sat the Chivas game, trying to get a little rest to be ready for a long season.
“I’m definitely healthier than I have been in the last few years,” Schuler said.
And like his friend and teammate, his career is healthier than it’s been the last few years.
Follow Orrin Schwarz on Twitter @orrin_schwarz.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.