by Michael Lewis

In soccer, there are drills and clinics for just about every aspect of the game.

Shooting drills. 

Passing drills.

Dribbling drills.

Possession drills.

 Shot blocking drills?

 Maybe not so much.

Yet, several Major Arena Soccer League players have made a career, quite a successful one at that, of blocking shots.

Exhibit A:

Kansas City Comets defender Robert Palmer.

He has found himself at the top of the class, having blocked a league-record 315 shots during his 10-year MASL career, through games of Feb. 16. 

Known as Berto to his friends and teammates, Palmer has called shot blocking an art. Let's face it, you have to be fearless, knowing that a ball shot with a ridiculous velocity could hit you anywhere on your body.

It's not easy when you have to face sharpshooters in the league such as the Texas Outlaws' Luiz Morales, San Diego Sockers' Brandon Escoto and the Empire Strykers' Marco Fabian, among others.

Palmer quickly became a student of the game.

"You learn the tendencies, angles and every little thing of when and where they shoot," Palmer said. "Look at basketball. Rajon Rondo [Boston Celtics, among several teams] and Russell Westbrook [Los Angeles Clippers] are really good at rebounding as guards, understanding the whole game. It's the same thing when we play, where I put my body in a line and understand where the players like to shoot from, [and] how I can be as big as possible to make sure I get a block.

"It just takes bravery, to be honest. There are times when I kind of roll and the ball hits me in the back, sometimes in the head. I've had bruises all over from blocking shots."

Palmer blocked his 300th shot in a 6-5 loss to the St. Louis Ambush on Feb. 4.

He received plenty of congratulatory texts and emails from friends, including one of his early indoor coaches, former U.S. Women's National Team coach Vlatko Andonovski, who guided the Comets from 2013-16.

"In the beginning playing indoors in the MASL, I never thought that would be the first one to get there," Palmer said. "I was talking to Vlatko, and he was like, 'Who would have thought you would have been the first one to reach that milestone?' "

In case you are wondering, Palmer also leads all MASL players this season with 62 blocks, breaking the league mark of 59, set by Rafa Alves when he earned 2023 defender of the year honors with the Florida Tropics. Palmer also eclipsed his previous career high of 49 during the 2019-20 season.

Texas Outlaws defender Uzi Tayou (57) and Comets defender Chad Vandegriffe (41) are second and third, respectively. It should not come as a surprise that Vandegriffe (281) and Tayou (263) trail Palmer on the league's all-time list. 

Not every shot is created equal. It depends on how far out it is taken and the angle.

"Corner kicks, it's so close, it's kind of more like a rule to block shots," Palmer said. "It depends on how close they are. Sometimes they're shooting from distance.  I'm watching and turning away fully. I try to see how I can block the ball without it going through my legs and deflect it into my own goal. That has happened a couple of times, especially early on in my career when I tried to block a shot. It's moving so fast."

Palmer has blocked countless shots with his feet, and with just about every part of his body. 

That includes his neck, which is one of his most vulnerable spots to get hit by a hard shot.

"It's pretty tough," he said. "One time I blocked a shot where I had to kind of shake myself, get myself together. We were playing the Orlando Seawolves. I don't remember the player. I took the back post past the goalie, but the ball was moving. I was trying to just tense up and [waiting for the ball to hit my chest. It ended up hitting me in the neck. After a while my neck was hurting a lot."

Sometimes blocks come in pairs, such as during the waning seconds of a win against the Milwaukee Wave during the 2019-20 season.

"We were leading by a goal on the last play of the game," Palmer said. "They had a free kick. I think they passed it to Alex Bradley. He shot it and I blocked it. The ball came back to him, and he shot it and I blocked it again. We just cleared the ball, and the game was done."

And yes, some of those shots have left marks on the body of the 5-10, 175-lb. defender. One season the league used a ball with a hard outer shell.

"I was scared to block the shots because they were leaving marks on me, even in practices," Palmer said.

Fortunately, Palmer hasn’t suffered a concussion after stopping a high velocity shot with his head.

"I've just been very fortunate," he said. "But I've had some scary ones."

Blocking shots has helped Palmer when he is on attack, understanding how opposing players might position themselves. He is hardly one dimensional, having collected 74 goals and 66 assists for 140 points in 175 matches. Palmer has four goals and four assists in 13 games this campaign.

"If you go inside with the ball and you fake, a lot of times an experienced defender sets up in a block, the legs closed," he said. "So, you fake it. They freeze and then you can take a touch. Then you have that open shot.

"A lot of times defenders are going to come in and overcommit and set up a block. I try to pass that on to my teammates to maneuver around defenders."

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, the 35-year-old Palmer was offered scholarships by several American colleges to play soccer. Park University of Kansas City, Mo. was one of the interested parties.

"My mom was like, 'You never know what can happen. It's good to have your education, and you still get to play,' " Palmer said.

 Park University’s Efrem Shimlis, the men's head coach since 2001, not only recruited Palmer, but he also visited his home and had dinner with his family, and future Comets forward Ramone Palmer's family (no relation) in Jamaica.

"That was huge for us and our parents," he said.

Palmer earned a degree in international business with a minor in economics. 

During college, Palmer admitted that he did not know who the Missouri Comets were (the team switched back to the KC Comets for the 2016-17 season). At the time, the team was competing in the Major Indoor Soccer League. 

"We used to play indoor soccer down by the Soccer Dome," he said. "But I never knew that there was a professional team around."

Both Palmers were approached by Andonovski at a soccer camp.

"I was asked, 'Have you heard of Kansas City Comets?' and I'm like, no," he said. "He explained it to me. They were having kick around in the summer down by the Soccer Dome twice a week."

They were invited, impressed the coaching staff and eventually signed with the team.

Palmer enjoyed playing for Andonovski.

"He's a very detail-oriented coach, a coach where you want to play for," he said. "It's nothing too super big. It's just a little detail. He added words to make you realize, this is huge.

"That memory will stick with me forever as a coach. I put him right up there as the best coach to teach me and opened my mind and my eyes regarding the game. I give big props to him. He demanded and pushed you to reach the best of your ability, to where you feel like you're on top and with confidence, too. He was a players’ coach."

With Andonovski in charge, Palmer was a member of the 2013-14 MISL championship team with the Comets. In the MASL's maiden campaign in 2014-15, he learned how fragile the regular season could be. The Comets were undefeated at 20-0 but lost in the conference final.

"It's not easy to reach the final in any sporting competition," he said. "It's even harder to even win the championship. It's just so much sacrifice. There's so much to it and the little details.

 "It's not easy to win a championship so I'm grateful. At the same time, I'm still hungry, still trying to win another championship."

 That second indoor title has been elusive, though Palmer played on loan with the Ontario Fury (now the Strykers), which reached the championship series before losing to the San Diego Sockers in a truncated 2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Palmer was named MASL defender of the year that year, but he would trade that honor in an instant for another title. 

"It was different. It was also fun," he said. "It brought a lot of teams and my teammates closer, being on the road so many times and being around each other a lot. It was a crazy year, but I was grateful for the league to make it happen because there were no East Coast teams."

Many of the league's top players went on loan from teams that could not compete that year that year, due to local restrictions.

"It became kind of an all-star team because our teams are packed with players who wanted to play," Palmer said. "You still had a limited amount of teams, but a lot of high quality players on each team."

 At the start of 2023-24 campaign, Kansas City looked like one of the teams to beat. 

The Comets (8-6-4, 28 points), however, have experienced a strange season. They looked like world beaters, bolting to a 7-1 record, but endured an eight-game winless streak (0-5-3). They snapped the skid with a 7-2 win over the Strykers on Feb. 10, but lost in overtime at home to the Chihuahua Savage, 3-2, on Feb. 16. The Comets visit San Diego on Sunday, Feb. 25 and the Strykers on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

Kansas City is in fourth place in the Eastern Division, the final playoff berth, seven points in front of the Baltimore Blast (7-6-1, 21). Baltimore has four games in hand.

"When you have momentum, the balls are going bounce your way," Palmer said. "You're going have a lot of deflection goals. We could do no wrong and then the second part of the season where we're in a slump, everything was going wrong. It's just a momentum thing. Your momentum breeds confidence to attack, to defend. You lose that momentum, you lose confidence and there is doubt. 

"It's just indoor soccer. I think every team goes through something like that. There's always adversary where you have to find a way to pull out and move forward. No one thought we'd have been in that situation that we put ourselves in, after starting so strong. Can we flip the switch again and go from there?" 

Palmer has realized he can't play and block shots forever. He is 35-year-old, and many overthirty indoor players still can make an impact at that age. Still, he has started to look toward the next chapter of his soccer career. Last fall he joined the Park University staff as an assistant coach, under the man who recruited him over a decade ago, Shimlis.

"I used to always make jokes," he said. "The moment these younger players pass me, maybe it's time for me [to quit]. But these legs are still going."

As a player gets older, it takes longer to recover from knocks and injuries.

"Every year I feel young and fresh until the season begins," he said. "You feel it the next day.  I just keep myself motivated and inspired every season, every game, even every practice, to where you never take it for granted."

And, he has added motivation.

"My kids are growing, and I want them to get to see me play," the defender said. "I want to share that with them." 

Daughter Rahbie is 2 1/2 years-old, and his son Tejhan is 14. 

It seems that Rahbie already has become a quick study in indoor soccer.

"She's understanding the game," Palmer said. "When she gets on the field, funny enough, she's like, 'Oh, I want to block shots with you.' "

Hmm, it looks like the next generation of the Palmer family is preparing to make life frustrating for opposing forwards.


Michael Lewis, the editor of, can be followed on X (formerly Twitter) at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at He has written two books" Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers and a sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers. It has many features about indoor soccer and MASL players. Both books can be purchased at