Personnel moves in Major League Soccer cannot be evaluated in a bubble. With long-term player movements ever changing, where one move can lead to another and the big picture of the club being built is not always clear, it is difficult to evaluate individual decisions in real time. Without the perspective of the overall changes made throughout the off-season, and into the regular season, it is difficult to judge a single move.
The Chicago Fire wasted little time in making their first move of the off season, and it was an obvious decision. On October 29th the Fire announced the re-signing of defender Lovel Palmer. As is standard with MLS policy, terms of the deal were not released.
As a Fire fan I could not be happier about this move. A casual fan might ask, "Why?" Lovel Palmer's skill set is adequate but not overwhelming. He filled the role of right back admirably but he was by no means a superstar. Why the excitement about this piece of business? I would argue that what Lovel Palmer brings to the Chicago Fire is so much more important than his skill set.
On September 30th, as the Fire season convulsed to a close, I wrote an editorial on what I thought was most missing from the Fire. In it I argued that the ingredient most missing from the club was not necessarily just talent, but also a sense of club culture, values, and philosophy. I argued that the organization needs to rediscover what it means to play for the badge. They need to begin to once again understand what it means to win and lose for the badge.
The reason I am so high on Lovel Palmer as a player is I believe he embodies the very ethos that the club needs to recapture to once again be successful. He understands what it means to stand together as a team and what it means to challenge a team member to perform better. He understands the importance of fan culture and interacting positively within that culture. In short, he has all of the values I want to see in a player.
Palmer not only demonstrates the heart and values we as fans expect, but he has also been very accessible to the fan base. During the 2014 season when he had to sit due to red card violation or yellow card accumulation, Palmer made a point of attending watch parties with Section 8. His attendance was not just lip service either. He spent time speaking to and interacting with fans. In addition, at events such as the White Party, Palmer planted himself amongst the fans more than any other player present. He spent time candidly interacting with fans, and not just the fans who paid the additional money for the VIP pass.
The fans have certainly responded to what Palmer brings to the club. On October 30th the Independent Supporters Association announced Palmer had won the fan-selected Supporters Player of the Year. Palmer is undoubtedly deserving of this award.
As the Fire shake up their roster this off season, and seek new talent to rebuild the club around, it is essential that the club's leadership seek out players likely to have Palmer's understanding of club and culture. Talent alone does not necessarily build success in the MLS. Toronto FC has demonstrated that with their failure to make the playoffs this season. The Fire must find more players like Palmer who will buy into what the club is trying to (re)achieve.
What I am saying is, as a fan, I really dream of a team of Lovel Palmers. I want a team where each player owns the badge and lives up to it each day. I want a clubhouse rich in team culture and values that is also accessible to fans. I want careful and considered player decisions made by the front office this off season that considers player temperment as well as skill level. Lovel Palmer was an excellent start. More like this, please.