The emotions of Portland Timbers players Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer, along with head coach John Spencer, will undoubtedly be high when they travel to Houston this weekend to face their former team.
The Timbers will play at Robertson Stadium for the first time on Sunday (8 p.m. CT, Get your tickets), reuniting the two players who were acquired in a trade less than a month ago and Spencer, who spent four years there as an assistant coach, with their former mates.
But emotions will certainly be felt off the field as well, as they reconnect with the community they all called home.
“I think it will be a bit nostalgic,” said Chabala, who spent six years with the Dynamo and became very active in the community, most notably for his work with local children's cancer patients. “There’ll be a lot of emotions. There are a lot of great times and memories that I’ve had in my career there.”
Chabala and Palmer arrived in Portland on July 21 in exchange for midfielder Adam Moffat and allocation money. Palmer spent a season and a half with Houston after playing professionally in Jamaica, but Chabala had been with Houston for the bulk of his professional career after graduating from the University of Washington in 2004.
“I think we all circled this game on the calendar when the trade went down,” Chabala said. “I mean, you always want to show well and play well. There’s 12 games left for us, and every game is important, but this game stands out a little for Lovel and I, and I’m sure for coach Spencer as well.”
Chabala has already made his impact felt with a goal in Portland’s 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy and has become somewhat of a fan favorite with his active Twitter account and gregarious personality. He said he plans on dropping by the hospital in Houston on Saturday after training and that a group from the hospital will also be at the match.
“I’ll stop by to see them and get some hugs from the kids,” he said. “I’ve just made so many good friends over there. That’s important.”
Chabala and Spencer, especially, spent some of their best professional moments in Houston. Spencer was the head coach of the Dynamo Reserves and Chabala was a starter when the Dynamo won the 2008 Reserves championship. Spencer also served as an assistant under Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear when Houston won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007.
“I think it adds a little more spice to the game,” Spencer said. “The last thing you want to do is go play your former club as a player or a coach and end up with a bad result.”
Despite the off-field storylines, all three emphasized that this is still a business trip, so much so that Chabala traveled back to Houston after the Timbers' 1-1 tie against San Jose on Saturday to tie up loose ends so he could focus only on soccer this weekend.
“I don’t want to worry about anything but the game,” he said.