Orlando City centerback Chris Schuler signed his contract with the Lions on the same day the club released the 2018 roster.
He had trained with the team through most of the preseason as a trialist and didn’t sign a deal until the day before the season got started. He was part of a massive roster overhaul that included players handpicked by former coach Jason Kreis and his staff.
Kreis – who coached Schuler for four seasons while the two were at Real Salt Lake – was fired in June. The midseason hiring of James O’Connor brought new expectations and a chance for players to prove themselves again.
Schuler said O’Connor’s style isn’t too different from what Kreis brought to the table in that both coaches have a strong desire to win.
“Obviously, if we were winning games, Jason wouldn’t have gotten fired,” Schuler said. “I like winning games and we haven’t done so, so it’s not been a great year for the club.
“There are a lot of similarities in personality between Jason and James. They’re both serious about winning and they both want what’s best for the team, which is winning. I think winning is the key for both of them and it’s just unfortunate that we haven’t been able to provide those wins this year.”
Schuler has some perspective on the situation. On top of understanding that change is part of the nature of professional sports, he also has battled back from career-threatening injuries. This season hasn’t been all that stressful because he’s able to draw on those past experiences, he said.
“It’s been the least successful, for sure,” Schuler said if this season has been the most stressful of his career.
“But no, I’ve come back from a quote-unquote career-ending injury. In 2015, I played like six games? I played four games, tore my meniscus, played two games and broke my foot. That’s real stress. I’ve been relatively healthy this year.
“As long as I’m able to play, as long as I’m able to push and compete with my teammates – obviously the results suck, which makes life not as good, but it’s much better than being in a bed on some drugs, on some pain pills, trying to recover from surgery, I’ll tell you that much.”
Right back RJ Allen is another player brought in during the offseason by Kreis who was coached by Kreis before his time at Orlando City.
“Obviously, Jason is someone that brought me in and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Allen said. “He acquired me from New York and you can consider me a ‘Kreis guy,’ but at the end of the day, James O’Connor is the new head coach and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he’s done in his playing career and his coaching career.
“He’s going to be a guy that’s going to change the culture, for sure. He’s got that winning mentality and he’s a guy that’s going to be successful.”
Both Schuler and Allen have seen decreased playing time lately, though that could be chalked up to injuries.
Schuler played in five consecutive matches when O’Connor first took over but hasn’t seen match minutes since July 29 and was dealing with a groin injury for a few weeks. Allen got a concussion near the end of July and hasn’t played since July 26, though the right back says he’s fully healthy now.
O’Connor has said he’s focused on giving different players looks while he assesses what he has going into the 2019 season.
“I think every coach has their own way of going about things and getting a hold of the group and building their own culture,” Allen said. “Every coach has their own philosophy. It’s the same thing with James versus Jason. He’s a coach that comes with this really strong winning mentality and everything is about winning.”
Both said they’re committed to proving themselves in training as the season winds down.
“The same thing it always is, which is work your ass off in practice and prove that you deserve to be on the field,” Schuler said. “It doesn’t really change for me. Every day’s the same, just trying to put everything I have out there.”