PORTLAND, Ore. — Lovel Palmer was a little down when he first discovered he was traded last week to the Portland Timbers.
The Jamaican defender/midfielder, who started his career with the Houston Dynamo in 2010, was just settling in with his teammates and had recently become more involved in the city’s Caribbean community.
But then he saw the 503 area code from Portland pop up on his phone and heard a familiar Scottish accent on the other end.
“I heard his accent, his voice, and I started smiling,” Palmer recalled Thursday at hearing his former Dynamo assistant and now Portland head coach John Spencer. “He was like, ‘Are you happy?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be reunited with you.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been chasing with you for awhile, and I finally got my man.’”
Before becoming Portland’s first MLS head coach, Spencer coached Palmer — and defender Mike Chabala, who also came in the trade for midfielder Adam Moffat and allocation money — during the Jamaican’s first season with the Dynamo.
And the help couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Timbers having allowed the second-highest goal total in MLS and facing a series of crucial games. Palmer started in the Timbers’ 1-0 loss Saturday against Columbus and figures to play the biggest role with the starters.
He started all 16 games for Houston and has one goal to his credit this season.
But Chabala, who has made seven appearances with Houston, could very well factor into the starting lineup after bending a perfectly placed pass that led to a header goal by Brian Umony in the Timbers’ 2-0 friendly victory Tuesday over Club Atlético Independiente.
“That’s why they’re here,” Spencer said, “to play well and put pressure on the guys who have been here.”
Palmer said he’s not worried about fitting in and is excited about playing with the number of young players on Portland’s roster.
“I just hope I can play beautiful soccer for the team and help the team make the playoffs,” Palmer said. “I just try to bring experience to the team. Try to get some shutouts, you know. Try to use my strength in the backfield. Hopefully score goals and get shutouts.”
That should be music to the ears of Timbers fans, with the team currently winless in eight of their last nine games. Portland are currently eighth in the Western Conference and, with 15 games left, wins need to start coming in bunches for a shot at the playoffs.
“As a professional, you have to be ready,” Palmer said. “You never know when you’re going to get shoved in the fire. You just have to make sure you prepare here in practice because you never know what’s going to happen on game day.”
Apart from the pressure to improve the team, both Palmer and Chabala said the chance to play in front of the Timbers Army is especially exciting. Chabala already got a taste in this week’s friendly.
“I gotta say, I think Portland fans, they rock the league,” Chabala said.