It's always hard writing post-release of a fan-favorite player. Lovel Palmer was exactly that during his tenure with Real Salt Lake after being picked in the 2012 Re-Entry Draft. Coming from his time with the Portland Timbers, which was marked with disappointment and frustration, it must've been refreshing to be embraced by a familial community again, giving way to a new lease on his career.
Reconnecting with former Jamaican national team teammate, Andy Williams, Palmer became a prominent fixture at the right back spot as injuries, national team call-ups, and dips in performance hobbled the RSL lineup. The highs of his season were overall limited, but they were crucial to team successes. Chief amongst these was the brilliant cross from the right side, finding the head of Devon Sandoval, and securing the win on the road in Vancouver. The build-up to that play showcased Palmer's ability in the attack with his pace, his forward ball control, and his crossing ability. It was his only assist on the year, and this could be where some fall into a trap of faulty criticism.
Looking at the stat line alone, Palmer doesn't seem to be a real factor on either side of the ball. Most would also notice his total shots and shots-on-goal stats are extremely disappointing considering he's a wing back that likes to attack. But look overall at his career and you'll see that he's almost exactly on par for past seasons. His time with the Houston Dynamo, where he'd played 2,050 minutes in 2010, saw his highest shot stats of his MLS tenure. Those numbers dipped proportionally as his playing time decreased, especially in Portland as John Spencer frantically tried everything to get his team to stop conceding goals. Add to this the fact that, first and foremost, as a fullback or as a defensive midfielder (where he's played previously) his first duties are to defense. And this is where the chief concern of his performance with RSL really lies.
As many have argued over the season, Palmer's ability to attack was often mitigated by his inability to defend consistently. To me, the foremost stat concerning this point is illustrated by Charles Barnard on his From the Upper Deck blog. Looking at individual plus/minus (i.e., goal differential) numbers, Palmer ranks dead last on not only the defense list, but the entire team. Registering a negative-six (a full five goals from the nearest teammate, Aaron Maund) over the course of almost 1,200 minutes, Palmer is decidedly lacking in the defensive side of his game. The stat is further exacerbated by the fact that RSL was ranked fourth on the season in fewest goals conceded (41), and third on the season for team goal differential (+17). Palmer's stat here is very much an outlier.
The icing on the cake (and what kind of crappy icing it is …) for Palmer was the botched PK attempt in the shootout at MLS Cup. Some think that alone cost him his career in Salt Lake, but looking at his defensive game -- and going back and watching his matches -- we can see that there were other factors impacting the decision to trade him to the Chicago Fire. And no doubt they were also factors here for deciding his 2013 rating.
Regardless of Palmer's shortcomings in his game, he's a value to any roster, and Chicago is lucky to have a quality player at their club. He was embraced like a brother in the RSL Family all season long, and he did exactly what he was brought in to do: fill a void to the fullback position. He achieved this ably. And what he got in return -- a reinvigorated soccer career, a return of passion for the sport he loves -- was our gift to him. As they say, it's always better to give than to receive.
RSL Soapbox writers say ...
Charles Barnard: Here is an interesting side note for Palmer. On the year he had a plus/minus of -6. This was by far the lowest on the team. As a point of reference the team as a whole had a goal differential of +16. Palmer was only one of two players on the team that had a negative plus/minus (Aaron Maund was at -1). In the matches he started, RSL had a record of 3-5-6.
Matt Montgomery: He remains a better person than a footballer, which isn't to call him a poor footballer — he is a fantastic person who did more than just sign things for fans on occasion. He was a part of our community, and he cared deeply and personally about the people here.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2013 season and previewing the 2014 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.