A year ago this month, Erik Palmer-Brown was on his way from Lee's Summit, Mo. to Bradenton, Fla. to join the U.S. Soccer Residency Program for its spring semester. At age 15, he was leaving the familiar facilities at the Swope Soccer Village where he excelled within the Sporting KC Academy to train with the top American players in the U-17 age group at the prestigious IMG Academy, a place where U.S. Men's National Team stars like Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley once groomed their talents.
And that was just the start of what turned into a whirlwind 12 months for the homegrown defender, including time spent representing the United States in Italy, Azerbaijan, Japan and France at youth tournaments and becoming the youngest signing in Sporting KC history when he penned his first professional contract over the summer. By November he had been named a finalist for U.S. Soccer's 2013 Young Male Athlete of the Year and the calendar year culminated by celebrating MLS Cup with a club captain twice his age.
So suffice to say, circumstances had changed considerably when Palmer-Brown returned to the Sunshine State last week for a training camp with the United States Under-18 Men's National Team at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. But Palmer-Brown says he's learned to cherish every invite.
"It's a great opportunity to represent my country," Palmer-Brown said by phone. "You have to treat every second like it's the last one because you never know what can happen in the future. You've got to always be here working hard and I feel blessed to continue making the most out of each opportunity."
Palmer-Brown, one of 24 players in camp under U.S. Under-18 head coach Javier Perez, featured in three exhibition matches for the U-18 squad, opening the week with a 1-1 draw in an intrasquad scrimmage on Monday. The final two fixtures came against their U.S. U-17 counterparts, earning a 3-1 win (goals from Sebastian Elney, Ben Swanson and Jorge Ruiz) on Wednesday and a 3-2 victory (goals from Mukwelle Akale, Sebastian Saucedo and Sebastian Elney) on Friday.
Impressed by his performances, U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team head coach Tab Ramos added Palmer-Brown to his roster of 36 players holding camp concurrently. With his stay extended, Palmer-Brown garnered minutes for the winning side in an intrasquad scrimmage with the U-20's on Sunday to close out the camp on a successful note.
3-1 win to end camp! Played outside back. Blessed to represent my country. #USA— Erik Palmer-Brown (@ErikBrown14) January 12, 2014
Next up? Sporting KC pre-season begins on Jan. 24 with trips to Tucson, Ariz. and Orlando, Fla. Palmer-Brown will also be in contention for a trip to Spain when the U.S. Under-18 Men's National Team participates in the Copa del Atlantico from Feb. 4-7 in the Canary Islands.