The rejoicing that accompanied Alex Chilowicz's final blow of the whistle Tuesday night signaled the Chicago Fire's passage through to the quarterfinal stage of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It provided some respite for a team that hadn't had its way in June, losing all four of its matches in league play while only having a marginal fourth-round Open Cup win against Louisville City FC to drawn on.
For Lovel Palmer, sauntering to Toyota Park's Harlem End to greet Section 8 Chicago supporters immediately following his Man of the Match performance, the victory was telltale in more ways than one.
"For the past couple of games, we've been trying to find a spark and trying to kickstart our season," Palmer said Thursday. "We've been in a bit of a rut, so I'm just happy we got the victory and moved on in the Cup. Hopefully that can springboard our season going into Houston."
The 30-year-old, who notched a goal and assist in Tuesday's 3-1 Open Cup Round of 16 win over the Charlotte Independence, has endured a challenging second full season as Frank Yallop's first acquisition back on Dec. 13, 2013. The Mandeville, Jamaica native's grown accustomed to accommodating Yallop's needs, often switching between left and right back positions and waging a competitive battle with Eric Gehrig for sole possession of the starting role at right back.
"I expect this a lot; I'm a professional player," he said. "We all want to be in the starting lineup, but the players who are on the bench are just as important as the players who start the game, and even the guys who are not in the 18.
"The way you train, you either help to prepare the starting lineup for the game on the weekend or you show the coach that you're ready to play. Personally, I've been working hard, in the gym and on the pitch. I put in the work just to show the coaches that I'm ready. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get the Chicago Fire back to winning ways."
[SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey]
That frame of mind will be crucial as the Men in Red get set for a Friday night, cross-conference clash with the Houston Dynamo (8 p.m. CT on Univision Deportes), Palmer's first MLS club.
From 2010 to 2011, Palmer made 45 appearances for the Dynamo before venturing west to feature for the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake in 2012 and 2013. The Jamaican defender, however, credits all of his success to now former head coach Dominic Kinnear, who left the Dynamo for the San Jose Earthquakes this season, but introduced Palmer to the league on March 19, 2010.
"First and foremost, Houston will always hold a special place in my heart, along with Dom Kinnear" he said. "He kickstarted Lovel Palmer's career. Dom is a unique coach and he had a style that he wanted to play for many years in Houston. The team has changed a lot; the players and coaches we all know during Dom's time.
"They're always hardworking and the humidity there works for them also. We just have to play Chicago Fire soccer, concentrate for 90-plus minutes, not give up on any play; see every play out, and be committed to the team."