12717_isi_palmer-brownerik_mlsbs050915111 Brad Smith/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Erik Palmer-Brown Sets Ambitious Goals for 2017

The 19-year-old central defender has returned to the states after a half-season in Portugal, and will look to be a difference-maker for both Sporting Kansas City and the U.S. under-20 national team.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 27, 2017
9:20 AM

ERIK PALMER-BROWN enjoyed a high-quality education in 2016, moving from Sporting Kansas City to Portuguese giants Porto for a year-long loan. The Ohio-born but Kansas City-raised central defender made a strong initial impression in Europe and quickly broke into the starting lineup on the club's reserve team, Porto B.

Just a few months later, Porto B won the Segunda championship, becoming the first reserve team to win a second-division title in Europe since Real Madrid Castilla won the Spanish Segunda in 1984. The 19-year-old central defender was a key contributor in the title run, and he soaked up every minute of it.

“It improved my game,” Palmer-Brown told American Soccer Now from U.S. U-20 camp in Southern California. “What I take away from it is to always be open to anything. It was a different experience for me in a new country and a new language and a new culture. It was different at first but then you start getting into the swing of things and the style of football they play, it was an unreal experience getting to play and getting those minutes under my belt with that group of guys.”

The loan experience was far from perfect. Palmer-Brown suffered a few injuries along the way, including a broken metatarsal which required surgery. But even with the setbacks, his time in Portugal’s Segunda gave him professional minutes which were mostly elusive during his early career at Sporting Kansas City. He also had the opportunity to train frequently with Porto’s first team—a regular Champions League participant.

Palmer-Brown enjoyed his time in Portugal, adding that he matured both on and off the field. His teammates frequently asked him questions about American culture and growing up in the United States. In the end, Porto did rate Palmer-Brown but the club’s struggling finances prevented it from turning the loan into a full transfer.

These days Palmer-Brown is fully focused on his 2017 To Do list. He will try to establish himself as a starter with Sporting Kansas City and hopes to enjoy a successful campaign with the United States U-20 team. 

Palmer-Brown is in the final year of his MLS contract and remains coy on his future plans—while insisting that he is focused on Sporting Kansas City for the time being.

“It was really cool but [the loan to Porto] hasn't changed my vision as to where I want to go with my career,” Palmer-Brown said. “Right now, I have to just focus on right now and not get too worried about the future. I hope to break into the Sporting Kansas City squad.”

Of course Palmer-Brown will not be spending much time with Sporting Kansas City this preseason and that could play a role in his playing time this season.

Over the weekend the United States U-20 camp ended but next week another camp is set to begin—one that will lead into the start of World Cup qualifying in mid-February. Palmer-Brown is considered a lock for the team (although Sporting is not technically required to release Palmer-Brown for the tournament). Qualifying will continue until the start of the MLS season and, as a result, Palmer-Brown is likely to miss all of preseason with SKC.

Should the U-20s qualify next month, World Cup preparations would start in early May for the tournament that kicks off May 20 in South Korea. The U-20 World Cup has the potential to open more doors for Palmer-Brown as it is one of the most scouted youth events in the world. (The 2015 World Cup was a launching pad for Matt Miazga, who later signed with Chelsea.)

Along with Arsenal’s Gedion Zelalem and Tottenham’s Cameron Carter-Vickers, Palmer-Brown is one of three players on the U.S. U-20 team who also played with the team in 2015. His club commitments with Porto, as well as his injuries, greatly limited his ability to get involved with the U-20 team this cycle but he was happy to be reunited with his international teammates.

Does he feel pressure to be a team leader?

“I think at first I did,” Palmer-Brown said. “Now, coming back into the group after almost a year-and-a-half, I don't feel that way. I feel that a lot of players in this group will challenge at every position. It is not going to be easy to be on the field—even for me or for any other player like Carter-Vickers or Gedion who played in the last cycle.

"It's only going to come with a lot of hard work. The competition is unreal and the camp has been really hard so far. It's been intense. It's great. It's been awesome.

"This is an amazing group of players.”

The 2015 U-20 team earned accolades for its effort, grit, and results and Palmer-Brown feels that the 2017 squad possesses similar attributes. Coach Tab Ramos may not have access to his best players, however, as Carter-Vickers is a regular in the 18 at Tottenham and Christian Pulisic is a consistent contributor at Borussia Dortmund.

Palmer-Brown is bullish on this team going no matter who ends up on the qualifying squad.

“The potential of this team is through the roof,” Palmer-Brown said with a smile. “It's also a close-knit group. You say those names [like Pulisic] and you throw them into the mix, it is unbelievable. We have a lot of expectations for ourselves and we have to reach those.”

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