When the Chicago Fire announced their starting XI for Sunday's game in Columbus, there was a strong "WTF?" flavor to the reaction on social media. Four days after a dispiriting 1-0 loss to the same Crew, the Men in Red announced a backline consisting of centerbacks Eric Gehrig and Adaílton, rookie left back Patrick Doody, and rookie defensive midfielder Matt Polster at right back. The first three positions were expected, perhaps, but the fourth - oh, the fourth.
There is one healthy, experienced right back on the Fire roster this season: Lovel Palmer, who started 29 games last season. When the team came out for warmups, he was in Chicago, presumably watching on ESPN2, because (for reasons as-yet unknown) manager Frank Yallop left Palmer off the trip, preferring completely untested rookie Kingsley Bryce as a bench option at the position.
You're reading that right: Instead of bringing along the only guy with serious experience at the position, Yallop and Co. decided to make a go of it with two rookies, neither of whom as any real experience at the position. In a crucial road matchup. Against a long-time rival.
In short, it didn't work. Polster fought heartily against his inexperience, but inevitably positioning problems and a preference for playing in the middle made defensive coherence difficult. On the game-winning goal, Polster's slip gave Waylon Francis all the time he needed to measure a looping cross which Kei Kamara banged home.
The question is, what gives? Palmer, since arriving in Chicago, has been a consummate professional, putting in hard work for an undistinguished team constantly sliding out of contention. His connection with the fanbase is the product of his outreach after games, where he typically shares a few minutes with fans after the final whistle. And while his play this season hasn't been a highlight reel, whose in red has?
Hot (Time) take
I wrote last year in this space that I hoped Palmer would retire in the Fire badge; that now looks increasingly unlikely. Palmer was the first player acquired after Yallop took over CF97, but his arrival was apparently engineered by Fire legend CJ Brown, who'd seen enough in his single year as Yallop's assistant to sprint out the door to NYCFC.
The question now is, has he just fallen that far out of favor? Or is there a trade in the works? And why, in a team beset with defensive woes, would you deal your one experienced right back?
There's surely more to this - a shoe yet to drop. Stay tuned.