BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Perhaps no Chicago Fire player personifies the attacking, hard-working ethos of head coach Frank Yallop better this year than marauding right-back Lovel Palmer.
The colorful Jamaican has played a pivotal role on the right side of a Fire defense that has suffered its fair share of criticism after giving up careless goals in games they should have won or tied.
And after missing two games with kidney stones, the 29-year-old Palmer has returned to the team stronger than ever sees this Saturday’s clash with the high-flying Seattle Sounders (8:30 pm ET; MLS Live) as an opportunity to show just how good the Fire defense is against one of the hottest teams in MLS.
“I’ve always said that I enjoy playing against the big teams or the big players or the teams that are hot,” Palmer told MLSsoccer.com at Toyota Park on Friday ahead of the game against the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield leaders. “It makes you want to rise to the occasion. It proves how good a player you are personally when you win your one-v-one battles.
“When you shut out a team like Seattle it means a lot because they are the top scoring team. They have a lot of firepower with [Obafemi] Martins and Marco Pappa, just to name a few guys, so we will have to come with our ‘A’ game. But I live for these games; you prove to the league and to yourself that I belong here, I’m a good enough player.”
And Yallop was quick to acknowledge the impact made by Palmer, who the Fire acquired from Real Salt Lake at the end of 2013.
“When Lovel is on his game he is a really, really good right back in our league,” Yallop said. “He’s very athletic, he likes to get forward, he’s very difficult to play against and when we’re playing well, Lovel’s usually playing well. I thought he played great against Los Angeles last weekend and then had a good 45 minutes in Colorado. He’s been a great pick up for us, and it’s good to have him on our team.”
Palmer was summoned from the bench at halftime in the Fire’s 0-0 tie at the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday, a sign of the importance of Palmer’s defensive qualities as well as his threat on the overlap.
“I’m happy to know that the coach has that kind of confidence in me and you guys (in the media) think it was a good enough performance, but I still feel personally that there are things to work on,” Palmer said.
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The former Portland Timbers and Houston Dynamo player has also fostered a special relationship with Fire fans, who have embraced his quirky hairstyles of late and his post-match interaction at Toyota Park.
When asked about his decision to put his traditionally flowing dreadlocks in pigtails, Palmer responded: “First and foremost, the reason I did it is because I had to change something. We were tying games, we were losing games, so I was like, ‘I’m changing something.’
“Everybody loved it and I thought, ‘Fine, we got three points, people seemed to like it so why not keep going with it,” Palmer continued. “I’m just happy that the fans enjoy my little crazy fashion. It’s good to interact with them, and if that’s the way to get the points and to get the fans in then I’ll keep doing it.”