Foregoing college, Sporting KC's Erik Palmer-Brown to learn pro game alongside league's best
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Erik Palmer-Brown still has to complete his high school education. But with the chance now to train daily alongside All-Stars Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin, one could say that the 16-year-old Sporting Kansas City Homegrown signing has a full ride to Center Back University.
“Obviously, they're the two best center backs in the league,” Palmer-Brown said on Friday, during a news conference to announce his signing. “Being in the All-Star game, the national team with Besler, Collin – just how strong he is, on and off the field as a person and a player. So I hope to learn a lot from him and from Besler.”
The two stars have differing roles, with Besler serving as the club's defensive anchor and Collin often ranging forward – then tearing back to slide-tackle the ball away from an attacker.
“I feel more cerebral, like Besler,” said Palmer-Brown.
That prompted Sporting manager Peter Vermes to cut in with a smile: “We're going to turn him into the more aggressive player.”
With Ike Opara also enjoying a resurgence at center back, and Lawrence Olum available at that spot as well as defensive midfield, Sporting can afford to take a patient approach with the league's youngest player.
“Obviously, he has a lot of years of development ahead of him,” Vermes said, “but we think that he has the potential as well as the work ethic and the ability to one day be a main player within our starting team.”
Vermes joked about setting a deadline of “two years, 37 days and 14 hours” for Palmer-Brown to be ready to make his competitive debut, but then said he has no timetable for the young defender's development.
“It's going to come down to him,” Vermes said. “It's going to come down to how he progresses, and it's going to come down to a lot of other things. The fact of the matter is if we're continuously playing in multiple competitions over years, he's going to get that opportunity as well at times – when those moments are right, that we feel that he has a chance to succeed, to then step in and go ahead and play.”
Palmer-Brown, a member of the US Under-17 team, has already taken part in some of Sporting's training sessions as a member of their academy.
“I'm in and out sometimes, practicing with the full team, but it's not going to be the same,” he said. “Every day, it's going to be a challenge. It's not going to be like, 'Oh, I can take today off.' It's going to be every day that I have to give my 100 percent.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.