Erik Palmer-Brown has long been touted as one of the best US players of his generation. He's currently at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, under one of the best managers in the history of the game.
However, the Manchester City youngster isn't working under Pep Guardiola at present. Instead, he's having to navigate his way around Europe in the loan market in order to secure regular playing time at what is a crucial point in his career.
In the latest instalment of our Rising Stars series we've taken a closer look at the 21-year-old to discover what kind of player the US Men's National Team have on their hands.
Who is Erik Palmer-Brown?
Palmer-Brown has played for Sporting Kansas City since the age of 11, moving through the club’s youth system before becoming the youngest player in their history when he signed professionally for the club at the age of 16.
At that time he was also the only player born in 1997 on a Major League Soccer roster.
Sporting KC is one of the more successful and more stable clubs in MLS, with evidence of this being the fact head coach Peter Vermes, who has been with them since 2009, is the longest-serving in the league.
The club straddles the states of Kansas and Missouri, with its Children’s Mercy Park Stadium located in Kansas City, KA, and the club's headquarters based in the Kansas City, MO.
An even finer line is that between success and failure for a young soccer star, but Palmer-Brown has always seemed destined for the former.
The player himself is from Lee’s Summit, Kansas, located on the outskirts of the big city where he chose not to go to college, and instead focused on soccer.
Take a look at the player’s Twitter timeline and you will come across an avid sports fan who follows the Kansas City Chiefs, as well as keeping an eye on how current and former team-mates are getting on in their various soccer activities.
It’s no surprise he chose to do this full time. But, at 21 years, he’s now approaching an important part of his career, especially for a central defender.
Having previously enjoyed successful stints on loan in Europe, with Porto B between 2015 and 2017, in 2018 he moved to the English Premier League to join Manchester City. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s one he felt he had to make in order to reach his sporting goals.
“If you want to build a career, you have to make sacrifices for it, and leaving my family behind is one of them,” he said.
“I have set myself some goals and I want to do everything to get there. For example, I would like to play for the US national team.”
He can now tick that box.
Since joining City he has been loaned out, first to KV Kortrijk in Belgium, and then to Dutch Eredivisie side NAC Breda where he’s currently playing.
These weren't ideal loan moves, especially the switch to Kortrijk where he only made one appearance, but they were at least an opportunity to be around first-team soccer and experience day-to-day life as a pro in Europe.
Appearances here and there for a number of different clubs isn’t the best way to begin assessing a player’s strengths and weaknesses based on data, but it may give an early indication as to some of the things he’s good at.
At NAC Breda he's made plenty of clearances with his average of 5.33 per 90 minutes putting him 14th in the Eredivisie among defenders.
This will, in part at least, be down to the fact the club are languishing at the bottom of the table in a battle to escape the relegation zone, so there is likely to be plenty of last-ditch defending to do.
The Player Persona comparison below, exclusive to Football Whispers, makes a stylistic comparison between parent club Manchester City and loan club NAC Breda.
The difference between the two sides is stark with the Citizens favouring a high possession style while the Dutch outfit are characterised by their dogged defending and far less possession, even though they do have a decent average possession stat - 49 percent - for a bottom-half team.
He completes 86 per cent of his passes, which is good enough for a centre-back in a struggling side, although CIty's current central defenders all boast a completion rate greater than 90 per cent.
His passing accuracy was exactly the same during the ten games he played in MLS for Sporting KC in 2017, and he also made a similar number of clearances per game with 4.63.
He won 2.66 aerial duels per 90, compared with 1.86 this season, but this small amount of data isn’t really telling us too much yet.
Standing at 186cm (6ft 1in) the 21-year-old is a right-footed central defender who can also play on the left side of the defensive pairing – which is where he has started most of his games.
A game against Mexico in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in 2017 showcased his abilities well as he used his physical strength to outmuscle opponents while grabbing the only goal for the USMNT Under-20s with a header from a corner.
He played as a defensive midfielder in that tournament and it’s always a good sign to see a young player who is a defender by trade performing well in midfield.
“We were able to get away with him playing in the number six position because he’s good enough to play there,” said his coach, Tab Ramos, ahead of the World Cup in the same year.
“I do believe that he’s good enough to play that position down the road but, at this point, the idea is to have him play centre-back.”
Manchester City wouldn’t have signed him were there not quality on the ball to his game, and the fact he was named the Player of the Tournament playing as a midfielder shows his ability in this area. He has also shown this on a number of occasions during his club career with both long and short passing, albeit from defence.
He now needs to show this more regularly at the highest level, and he’ll be hoping for more games at Breda in the second half of the season.
As well as the aforementioned CONCACAF Under-20 tournament, Palmer-Brown has been a regular in youth team squads at national level from under-15s through under-20s.
He captained the side at that tournament in 2017 and won the Golden Ball award after being named the tournament’s best player, even though the US were defeated on penalties by Honduras in the final.
Palmer-Brown remained captain for the subsequent Under-20 World Cup where the US were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by eventual finalists Venezuela.
Senior caps for the USMNT arrived at the end of 2018 as he achieved his aforementioned goal of representing his nation. He made his debut for Dave Sarachan’s side in a friendly against Bolivia on May 29, playing the full 90 minutes.
He went on to make an appearance from the bench in a friendly against France in June, where the US earned a 1-1 draw against the soon to be World Cup winners.
There have been no call-ups since but he will be hoping to attract the attention of new head coach Gregg Berhalter with his performances in the Netherlands.
The positives in his career so far are his growth as a youth player at Sporting KC, a US Open Cup win, his time in the national team setup, and that period on loan at Porto B.
Manchester City have some of the best youth facilities in the world, but Palmer-Brown will not be a youth for much longer. It will take a big show of faith from head coach Guardiola to add him to the first-team setup.
If he is to go on loan again, MLS might be the best option. But wherever he goes, City and Palmer-Brown need a guarantee he will play games – and they need to find a club which plays similarly to the possession-based game of the Manchester club.
Centre-backs, as a rule, mature later than other players. But at 21 Palmer-Brown is approaching an age where he needs to be learning his craft by playing week in week out.
He could be compared with a player just down the road from Manchester, Liverpool’s Joe Gomez, who is almost exactly the same age, and a similar type of central defender.
Gomez has made his mark at international level, as has Palmer-Brown, but is a good few steps ahead at club level.
The talent is there, and it would make sense for Berhalter to select him, even if Guardiola doesn’t.