Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Freezing temperature. Pressure-packed occasion. Neither, Jamaican Lovel Palmer claimed, fazed him when he stepped up to take the crucial 10th kick for Real Salt Lake (RSL) in Major League Soccer (MLS) final's penalty shootout Saturday.
However, Palmer powered his right foot shot on to the crossbar, handing North America's top professional football prize to host Sporting Kansas City (SKC) 7-6 on penalties after the two teams had played to a 1-1 draw.
After analysing the game, season and his kick - the last of MLS 2013 - Palmer admitted being "gutted for me, my team and the fans". Had he scored, the scores would have been tied. But Palmer refused to make excuses for his miss.
"I made one decision before walking to the spot and the decision was to smash the ball as hard as I could," he explained yesterday, "and it hit the crossbar.
"I had no second thoughts. I wasn't in two minds how I was going to shoot it. I was aiming for straight down the middle (of the goal). It's always been my style.
"I have no regrets about the season, final or penalty," added Palmer, who entered Saturday's game in the 72nd minute for injured left fullback Chris Wingert and played through two 15-minute overtime periods before the shootout.
Palmer had taken penalties before for his former club Harbour View. He also scored two clutch shots from the spot - semi-final and final shootouts - for Jamaica when the Reggae Boyz won the 2007 Lunar Cup.
But Palmer admitted the MLS final was a much bigger stage than the Hong Kong tournament. The "horrific" playing conditions in Kansas City didn't make it easier.
"At no point in time," he said, however, did he believe he'd be a factor in the shootout, especially after RSL's coach Jason Kreis selected only six players to kick first. By Palmer's turn to shoot, the tension had peaked and the stakes were at their highest.
"I had never been in that situation before," he said. "It was a huge occasion."
Palmer said the remaining five RSL players decided the kicking order. Up to his own turn, he was so caught up in the excitement of the situation he hadn't given his approach, nerves or the frosty conditions - which left part of the pitch covered in ice - much thought.
"It was freezing, but I was numb to everything," said Palmer, the only RSL player who didn't wear a jacket during the shootout to shield from the cold. "The moment, the experience, I wasn't feeling anything. It (cold) had nothing to do with the PK (penalty)."
Since his miss, and RSL's loss, Palmer said he has received tremendous response from teammates, family, friends and fans - including in the United States and Jamaica - personally, via email, text and other social media. His sister, former Jamaica hurdles star Brigitte Foster-Hylton and ex-Jamaica international Andy Williams, RSL's chief scout who himself had missed a penalty for the club in MLS Cup final 2009, which RSL won, were among his main backers.
"Andy said 'one penalty kick doesn't define you or the season you had'," said Palmer, who stressed he doesn't want sympathy.
The disappointment of losing the final has not dampened his joy for the 2013 season, his first at RSL and fourth in MLS after playing for Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers. He said it was by far his best in football.
"I set out to do one thing this season, to prove at RSL that I'm a good enough player," said Palmer, who recently announced his retirement from international football, frustrated after being dropped from Jamaica's team for the final round of World Cup qualifiers despite playing every minute in the semi-final stage.
"I feel I accomplished that. I feel I'm a ball player."
He's ready to make another MLS title run in 2014.
"I'm good," Palmer said, "and I look forward to doing it all over again next season."