SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake defender Lovel Palmer is extremely well acquainted with his team's Western Conference final foe — and he has a healthy respect for the Portland Timbers.
“They're wounded,” the former Portland player told MLSsoccer.com after RSL took a 4-2 lead in the first leg of the series. “They're even more dangerous. I've been a part of the Timbers before and they're deadly in JELD-WEN.”
Portland was 11-1-5 at home during the regular season; they outscored their opponents 29-11 in JELD-WEN Field. And down by two goals, a wounded Timbers team has Palmer and Salt Lake wary as they look ahead to the second leg on Sunday, Nov. 24.
“They're sniffing blood,” the 29-year-old Jamaican said. “So we have to be smart when we go there.”
Palmer played in 34 games for the Timbers in 2011-12. On Sunday, he played one of his best games since joining RSL this season, coming off the bench in the 33rd minute to spark the Claret-and-Cobalt after they fell behind in the 14th minute.
“The coaches always ask for the guys who come off the bench to make a positive impact. I guess that's what happened,” Palmer said. “Without even thinking about it, I just went on, I brought some energy and I guess the team gravitated to it and started feeding from it.”
Palmer – who turned in a solid 90-minute shift in RSL’s 0-0 draw at Portland on Oct. 19 – was subbed in under some tough circumstances. Defender Chris Wingert suffered a fractured rib and what turned out to be a pneumothorax when he was hit in the chest after fouling Portland midfielder Diego Valeri in the 13th minute. Wingert expressed hope that he could recover before the second leg, but that's doubtful; he was hospitalized in the days after the game.
“I'm sorry to see that Chris is injured that bad, but we all have to be prepared,” Palmer said. “It was always going to be difficult to be put in a game like that.”
In the locker room after Sunday's win and in obvious pain, Wingert wanted only to talk about the team. “Did you see how great they played after I came out?” he said.
And, perhaps, RSL players will draw some inspiration from their injured teammate.
“We just have to go out every day and battle hard, and keep him in mind when we're playing,” Palmer said.