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Newest Timbers bring unique styles

Palmer has islander persona; Chabala has intensity, swagger
by: Becca Quint New Portland Timbers defender Mike Chabala watches as goalkeeper Troy Perkins allows the first Toronto FC goal in a 2-2 tie last week at Jeld-Wen Field.

Portland Timbers defenders Lovel Palmer and Mike Chabala have a completely different style of soccer. Palmer is silky and smooth and seems to glide toward opposing strikers to challenge possession. Chabala plays with fire and intensity, chasing after the ball as if everything in his life hangs in the balance. The two are a completely different kind of cool, as well. Palmer, who grew up in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica, still has the easygoing, islander persona. One could easily imagine him lying on a sunny beach and sipping a tropical drink out of a coconut shell. When facetiously asked if he was ever a bobsledder like his “Cool Runnings” countrymen, Palmer responds simply with a drawn-out laugh. Chabala, who hails from Fresno, Calif., has the confidence and alpha male swagger of the most popular kid in high school. “Not a dull moment in this life,” he says, smiling, when asked about his bright, iridescent boots. When Palmer and Chabala were traded from the Houston Dynamo on July 21 for midfielder Adam Moffat and allocation money, they were thrown immediately into action. Both have a strong relationship with Timbers coach John Spencer, a former assistant with Houston. “When you bring players to the club and give them a chance, it’s important that they do well,” Spencer says. “And the two of them have performed to a decent level so far. We can get more out of them, for sure. When they get used to the group and they get used to the way we play we’ll get more out of them.” Palmer, a 5-8, 160-pound 26-year-old, has 19 caps with the Jamaican national team. The Timbers might never have had a chance to trade for him if he had not decided to abandon his boyhood love. “Cricket was my first love,” Palmer says. “I used to stay home and play with my friends. My brother, Theodore, used to go out and play (soccer) after school. One evening (when I was) about the age of 9, he asked me, ‘Hey, come on with me.’ ” Soon, Palmer was playing with a club soccer team three hours from his home. He traveled once a year to Norway to play in the Norway Cup. “I realized ‘Hey, (soccer) is a really fun game,’ ” he says. “You get to travel a lot. Why not keep playing?” The life of a footballer did not always coincide with the life of a student. But Palmer never minded missing school to play soccer. “I missed school a couple of times,” he says. “I didn’t really care about missing school. I just wanted to play soccer. Jamaican kids, they’re just naturally athletic. Especially where I’m from, because there’s not much to do. “It’s either, you’re going to be an athlete or you’re going to go to school and be a book worm. I started playing soccer and I realized that’s my passion. That’s what I wanted to do. And I focused all my energy there.” Palmer is the youngest of two brothers and one sister. No matter what he does on the pitch, he may never live up to the legacy of his older sister, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, the reigning world champion in the 100-meter hurdles. Palmer laughs when he admits no one knows whether his sister is faster than him. “We always debated about it. but,we never actually had that race,” he says. “She’s pretty quick. She is a world champion.” Chabala, a 6-0, 175-pound 27-year-old, joined the Dynamo in 2006 as a fourth-round selection in the MLS SuperDraft after starring at the University of Washington. Chabala spent part of his rookie season on loan with the USL Timbers. He never imagined he would be back in Portland, and he is trying to learn his way around. “This is home,” he says. “This is where I’m going to be making the future and the new chapter of my career. I’m trying to immerse myself as quickly as possible in the city. It’s been fun.”