With the World Cup set to kick off this week, USA TODAY High School Sports is taking a closer look at the next generation of United States soccer stars. Today we feature defender Erik Palmer-Brown, a U.S. Youth National Team stalwart who signed his first professional contract with Sporting KC last year at age 16.
Position: Center back
Team: Sporting KC
School: Archbishop O’Hara (Kansas City, Mo)
After signing with hometown Sporting KC last year, Palmer-Brown became the youngest player in MLS history to start a game at defense when he made his professional debut May 18 against the Chicago Fire. Not bad for a 17-year-old who hadn’t yet completed his junior year of high school. Palmer-Brown enrolled at Archbishop O’Hara last fall following a semester at the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., and he plans to continue attending high school through graduation while also playing in MLS.
Why he could be World Cup-bound: Palmer-Brown has been breaking the mold for years, and there’s no reason to think that will change any time soon. In April, he was the youngest member of the U.S. U-20 National Team that finished second at the Dallas Cup – a prestigious tournament featuring the youth teams of pro clubs from around the world. In 2013, he played every minute of a three-game tournament in France as one of the youngest members of the U-18 team, helping the squad go 2-0-1. Up next, he’ll be fighting it out with players two years older for a spot on the U.S. roster for the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
Plays like: Giorgio Chiellini. Earlier this year, storied Italian club Juventus reportedly tried to sign Palmer-Brown away from Sporting KC. The move never went through, but during negotiations the Italian media hailed the possible arrival of “the new Chiellini.” It’s not a bad comparison. The backbone of both Juventus and Italy’s defensive units, Chiellini is best known for his rugged style of play. Palmer-Brown certainly does not lack in the aggressiveness department. If anything, he needs to rein it in, having been red carded in his professional debut and in the Dallas Cup. Chiellini also gets high marks for his on-field awareness, a trait that has helped Palmer-Brown thrive despite regularly being the youngest player on the field.
American role model: Matt Besler. Every day at practice, Palmer-Brown has an up-close view of a player he hopes to one day succeed on multiple fronts. In addition to starting at center back for Sporting KC, Besler – also a Kansas City-area native – is a starter for the U.S. National Team. It’s a perfect situation for a young, excitable player such as Palmer-Brown to get to watch the experienced and composed Besler on a regular basis.
Key number: $1,000,000. Amount of money Juventus reportedly bid to acquire Palmer-Brown earlier this year. Sporting KC has thus far refused to sell, but it’s clear Europe’s top teams have taken notice of the budding U.S. star.
Expert opinions: “For 17 years old, I thought he was incredible. He’s very good. If he was 17 or 27, at the end of the day, his performance was excellent.” – Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes on Palmer-Brown’s second professional game on May 31
“He really impressed me and is definitely somebody we want to keep around because I think we certainly are barely scratching the surface with Erik Palmer-Brown.” – U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos on Palmer-Brown’s performace at the Dallas Cup (via American Soccer Now)