Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe are spending a lot of time by each other's sides these days. The two Real Salt Lake defenders live in the same apartment complex and share rides to practice. And when Schuler needed a haircut last week during preseason training, Watson-Siriboe stepped in as barber.
RSL hopes the duo can mesh just as well on the field and fast.
Longtime starter Jamison Olave will be wearing a New York Red Bulls jersey this season. And veteran Nat Borchers is still recovering from injury. That means Schuler and Watson-Siriboe likely will be side by side as RSL's starting center backs on opening day.
"We have to throw some guys in the fire," Real goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "You have to understand that some games aren't going to be perfect. There are going to be bumps in the road."
In trading Olave, RSL lost a reliable defender who recorded 121 appearances with the club. Borchers has played 244 games in Major League Soccer.
Schuler and Watson-Siriboe have played in a combined 56 regular-season games during their young careers.
Both saw significant minutes last year as Olave dealt with a series of injuries over the course of the season, but Schuler and Watson-Siriboe are still learning about each other on the pitch.
"They've played alongside Borchers and Olave and done very well," coach Jason Kreis said. "But I don't know how many times they have played together. It's not a lot. I think they are still adjusting and learning each other in our system."
A preseason schedule heavy on matches (six in all) has helped, Schuler said.
"One of the major challenges is just finding out the little tendencies," he said. "Everybody plays different. In practice, we're not always playing 11-v-11. You don't always know what the guy next to you is going to do. It's something you gain through time."
The pair's off-the-field relationship has helped their communication on the field.
"Just being comfortable with the person and being able to talk things out is a privilege. It helps the relationship. Everybody has played next to someone you're not as comfortable with and it's not as easy to get your point across.
"We have no problem saying what needs to be said."
The back line remains one of RSL's biggest question marks going into the season. Add in a lingering injury to usual starting left back Chris Wingert, and you have a situation Kreis has described as "troubling."
But the team also sees potential in their young players. For Schuler, in particular, coaches and teammates expect a bright future. Rimando called him "one of the best defenders in the league" and Kreis said he believes the 25-year-old has the potential to one day make the U.S. national team.
"But it's important to note that I'm talking about potential, not where he is right now," Kreis cautioned. "Ultimately, it will come down to Chris."
For his part, Schuler said he has been gearing up for this season since learning about Olave's trade.
"I knew there was an opportunity to step up," he said. "You do take a mental step toward realizing that there is going to be more responsibility. You just have to be more dependable, and I started to focus on that."
Player 2012 stats
Games • 13
Minutes • 944
Games • 12
Minutes • 918
RSL's goals allowed (regular season)
2012 • 35
2011 • 36
2010 • 20
2009 • 35
P RSL at San Jose Earthquakes
Kickoff • Sunday, 8 p.m. MST
TV • CW30
Radio • 700 AM
• RSL's average age: 24.9 years old
• Scored a team-best 46 goals last year, but went scoreless over its last five matches.
• Finished second in the West with 57 points.