PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers backline needed something, anything, to get over a string of bad play during the team’s four-game losing streak.
That something turned out to be Lovel Palmer.
The former outside defender was moved to a defensive midfield position in Portland’s 1-0 victory previously unbeaten Sporting Kansas City last Saturday, showing how much can change in just one week. Palmer went from being benched in the Timbers’ 3-1 loss April 14 against the LA Galaxy to one of the stars of the show against Kansas City.
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“I think it’s a like a new beginning for me,” said Palmer, who played as a defensive midfielder for a season-and-a-half with Houston before a midseason trade last year brought him to Portland. “I really enjoy playing in the middle of the pitch and getting more touches off the ball. I’m seeing the game more, so I’m able to communicate with the outside backs and the center backs and the guys in front of me.
“That’s a strong point of my game, communication,” he added. “And I think we’ve been having problems with that.”
Palmer was the first to take the blame for the Timbers’ defensive struggles in their four consecutive losses to New England, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and LA. It was the opposition’s unabated service from the wings that drew head coach John Spencer’s ire.
“I wasn’t getting the job done, for whatever reason,” Palmer said.
But last Saturday, Palmer took Designated Player Diego Chara’s spot in the center of the field, pushing Chara to a wing. His work on SKC midfielder Graham Zusi drew high praise from Spencer, who called it Palmer’s best game in a Timbers jersey.
“We just contained what probably their best assets were,” said central defender Eric Brunner, who noted a big jump in Palmer’s comfort level in that game. “Our shape needed to be better after the LA game, and I think we did a good job of that, defensively of not just the back four but of the entire team. We covered each other really well and won our individual battles.”
Even with the positive result against Kansas City, the Timbers made it clear with this week’s signing of defensive trialist Steven Smith that the backline is still an area of concern heading into Saturday’s game on the road against the Montreal Impact (11 am PT, KPDX, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940 AM - Timbers Television Network).That’s not lost on Palmer, who said he knows there’s no guarantee that last Saturday’s lineup will be a constant going forward.
“It’s the work rate that really counts,” Palmer said. “And if you go out on the pitch and work like we did on Saturday night I’m sure we’ll get results every single game. It’s not about who is out there in the lineup, it’s the effort you put in every single game.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.