Lovel Palmer has been important addition to Real Salt Lake in 2013
addition of lovel palmer has added depth, made 'friendly competition'
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SANDY — OK, this has got to be the week Chris Wingert is back in the starting line-up for Real Salt Lake, right?
Last week he was held out against the L.A. Galaxy partly because of a sore quad, but more realistically because Jason Kreis wanted to reward Lovel Palmer with another start after he was instrumental defensively in RSL's shutout of Chivas the previous week.
With RSL coming off a sloppy defensive performance against the Galaxy in last week's 2-0 loss, Kreis doesn't feel an obligation to start anybody.
"We're in a different boat this week," Kreis said.
Even if Wingert does crack the starting lineup and Palmer is back on the bench, Palmer has been an invaluable addition to Real Salt Lake this season. He's the fourth outside back the team has long coveted.
Because of salary cap restrictions from 2009 to 2013, RSL couldn't afford a fourth outside back and was forced to make due with three. From 2009 to 2011, the three-man rotation of Wingert, Tony Beltran and Robbie Russell worked just fine.
Without Russell in 2012, though, there wasn't as much stability at the position as the club experimented with Terakazu Tanaka and then Abdoulie Mansally as the primary backup.
With Mansally back again this season — with a valuable year of experience in Kreis' system under his belt — and the signing of Palmer to complement him, there's definitely more depth and stability at the position.
It's been much-need depth as well with Wingert spending the first two months of the season working his was back to full fitness after breaking his foot in the offseason.
Mansally got the starting nod in place of Wingert during four of the first six games this season, but Palmer has been the guy the past three, and it appears the Jamaican has surpassed Mansally on RSL's depth chart.
It's healthy competition that Beltran said will help everybody.
"We're four deep, and frankly four guys who could start on a lot of teams. It's also good to have that competition in practice to push you every day and keep everybody sharp," Beltran said.
The addition of a fourth starting-caliber back might help with RSL's sharpness late in the season, too, if the coaching staff distributes the minutes. Last season Wingert started 30 of 34 regular-season games, while Beltran started 32 of 34. Beltran admitted that fatigue slowed him down briefly during the summer, and there's no telling if fatigue was an issue late in the season for either outside back.
Even though Beltran and Wingert play defense, Real Salt Lake's system relies on the outside backs pushing into the attack and filling the space on the wings. That attack ended 2012 season without a goal in five straight games.
Whether the addition of Palmer makes a difference in that area will take months to play out, but already Kreis has been impressed.
Like everyone on the team, Kreis said Palmer has endured his fare share of good games and bad games, but his attitude for a 28-year-old journeyman has been superb.
"It's a lot to ask for outside backs to join our team because we do things a little bit differently in our system, and they have to understand exactly which balls to go for and which not to," Kreis said. "So I think he's learning and he appears very eager to be here and very eager to learn, and those things matter to us."
He's fit in the locker room splendidly. Wingert has never felt threatened about losing minutes to Palmer, and is constantly giving the newcomer advice after practices and matches.
Assuming Wingert returns to his customary role in the starting 11 this week against visiting Vancouver, Palmer will again be reduced to a backup role. Don't expect any animosity either. Palmer said he'd continue to push Wingert for playing time in practice, which in turn should help Wingert stay sharp.
"It's friendly competition," Palmer said.
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