As far as excuses for missing the start of the new Major League Soccer season go, captaining the US national team to glory at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championships, also winning the player of the tournament award, is about as acceptable as they come. Erik Palmer-Brown is now back at Sporting KC, with his reputation inflated even further.
The 19-year-old was already regarded one of the brightest young prospects in North American soccer before the tournament, but his performances in Costa Rica underlined his sparkling potential. The competition might one day be reflected on as Palmer-Brown’s mainstream breakthrough.
It was a special weekend for Lee's Summit native @ErikBrown14 🇺🇸🏆
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) March 6, 2017
Scouts have observed him before, with Juventus making an offer not long after he signed for Sporting KC aged just 16, but social media chatter that he might be set for a move to Europe has never been stronger.
Palmer-Brown is attracting more attention than any other young American talent right now and it’s entirely justified. The teenager could be the next star to make the move across the Atlantic to the bring lights of European soccer.
He is, after all, already accustomed to the culture having spent last year on loan at Porto B in Portugal, making 17 appearances. With Matt Besler and Ike Opara well established as Peter Vermes’ first choice centre-back pairing at Sporting KC, and Kevin Ellis a proven back-up option as well, opportunities in MLS have been sparse for Palmer-Brown, but there is a feeling that on the back of his displays for the USA Under-20s side chances will finally come his way.
Slow and steady progress
That might be the only way Sporting KC can convince him to stay as Europe’s elite circle around the 19-year-old. Vermes is right to be cautious in throwing Palmer-Brown in at the deep end, but having proven his credentials at international level he deserves a chance in MLS. Deny him that and he may look elsewhere.
“Before he left to go to the 20s and qualifying, he was easily one of the top central defenders for us at the time in his play,” Vermes said earlier this week, suggesting Palmer-Brown is a major part of his plans for the future. “There’s a reason that we signed him a long time ago, because we always realised that he had a lot of quality. It's always about him working towards that potential.”
— Sporting KC on Fanly (@fanly_sporting) January 31, 2017
The teenager still has a lot to learn, but if his stint in Portugal taught him anything it was positional awareness, with the teenager now much more adept at holding a line. He also demonstrated an improved versatility for the US Under-20s side at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championships, playing as a defensive midfielder on occasion.
What does Palmer-Brown bring?
His distribution and ease on the ball is another reason so many have such high hopes for Palmer-Brown, meaning he might one day move into the defensive midfield position on a permanent basis. He has the skill set to play there, but it’s these qualities that make him such a valuable commodity as a centre-back. He stands out most there.
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) February 27, 2017
At 6ft 1” Palmer-Brown still has some filling out to do (although he is certainly no weed) and that’s where MLS might turn him into the compete central defender, with the league’s physical nature conducive to the cultivation of strong defensive figures.
Palmer-Brown should perhaps look to Geoff Cameron for a precedent to follow, with the former Houston Dynamo man now a proven and trusted performer at both Premier League and international level. That could be the Ohio-native in a few years.
“I'm still kind of just… I don't want to say ‘in shock,' but just kind of soaking in the moment at the time, still,” Palmer-Brown said after returning from the CONCACAF Under-20 Championships.“It’s been a long trip. It's been like eight weeks away from home. I'm glad to be back for a bit and really focusing toward going to the World Cup and doing big things there too.”
MLS the best place for development
With his homegrown contract expiring at the end of the year, there is scope for an interested club to snatch Palmer-Brown from Sporting KC. But the teenager should be wary of making such a jump too early in his career. There’s still plenty about his game that he can develop in the US. Furthermore, MLS might actually be the best place for him right now.
Palmer-Brown is a pragmatic character, recognising even after performing so well at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championships that he still has a lot of progress to make. He is wise beyond his years, also demonstrating leadership in his captaining of the USA U20 side over the past month. It must be trusted that he will make the right decision for his future.