Erik Palmer-Brown insists his focus remains with Sporting Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After his first MLS start since 2015 – and a raft of transfer rumors linking him with any number of overseas clubs – Erik Palmer-Brown is keeping focus on making the most of his minutes with Sporting Kansas City.

The United States Under-20 captain heads into next week’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup quarterfinal – and the CONCACAF Gold Cup break, after that – on the heels of a full-90 outing in central defense in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union.

And while it will still be a fight to get starts once Matt Besler gets back from the Gold Cup – with Ike Opara in career form at the other center back spot – Palmer-Brown, a 20-year-old Homegrown who spent 2016 on loan in Portugal, said he’s still determined to make a place for himself at Children’s Mercy Park.

“You want to play games,” he said. “That's the most important part of being on a team. But when you are on a team with a guy on the national team and the (club’s) leading goalscorer in the month of June, it's not easy. Every day you have to come in and work and when you get the opportunity, you have to come in and take advantage of it."

In March, after returning from a Golden Ball performance at the CONCACAF U-20 Championships, Palmer-Brown’s stock with Sporting seemed on a sharp rise. He went on to captain the US at the U-20 World Cup in May and early June, and made five appearances with USL side Swope Park Rangers this season – but until Tuesday, starts with Sporting weren’t forthcoming.

Palmer-Brown’s absences from Kansas City’s XI in earlier situations where he might have started raised predictable talk that Sporting weren’t playing him because they didn’t want him to get hurt before a sale.

Then again, Palmer-Brown has been the subject of transfer speculation almost since he turned pro as a 16-year-old high school junior in 2013 – and on Tuesday, manager Peter Vermes said EPB remains in the club’s plans.

He also praised the young center back’s overall performance, especially when matched against big Union striker C.J. Sapong. Palmer-Brown showed a few signs of rust, but also had eight recoveries and five clearances and completed 63 of 73 passes.

"It was just a coaching decision," Vermes said. "I feel like he's getting back and ready to go. I thought he had a good game all in all for it being his first time back with us in a long time for many, many reasons – injuries, international duty, whatever. But he was good and hard to get around.

“He dealt with some athletic guys, especially in C.J. I mean C.J. is a very, very difficult guy to mark, and I thought we did a good job of keeping him at bay today."