Sporting Kansas City signed the youngest player in club history Friday, inking defender Erik Palmer-Brown to a “Homegrown Player” contract.
Palmer-Brown, 16, who lives in Lee’s Summit and plays for the Sporting KC Academy, joins goalkeeper Jon Kempin (2010) and outside back Kevin Ellis (2011) as the third Homegrown Player in club history.
Major League Soccer’s Homegrown Player rule allows a club like Sporting KC to sign a player directly from its own developmental program to first-team status squad without having to send the player through the MLS draft process, where he could be scooped up by another team.
“When he was younger, I never expected something like this,” Palmer-Brown’s mother, Marilyn Palmer, said, “but I’m very proud. I don’t even know how to express how proud I am. It was kind of disbelief that he actually accomplished this.”
Palmer-Brown, who will be a junior at O’Hara this fall, spent the spring at the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., training with several dozen of the nation’s elite youth soccer players.
“Eric has always been one of the great talents that we’ve had in our academy,” Sporting KC Academy director of coaching Jon Parry said. “He started playing with us when he was 12 and he’s just progressed very nicely. Having the opportunity to go to Bradenton for six months was his ‘ah’ moment, if you will. He realized how good he could be and we’re very excited for him.”
Now, Palmer-Brown (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) becomes the youngest active player in MLS. He was signed to the club’s last off-budget roster spot and will not count against the salary cap, but he is eligible to play in any Sporting KC match.
Palmer-Brown, who said he idolizes and patterns his game after Sporting KC’s Matt Besler, will train in the morning with Sporting KC and spend afternoons studying at O’Hara.
“When we sat down and talked about it, my reaction was just like, ‘Is this really happening right now? This is amazing,’ ” Palmer-Brown said. “It’s been my dream since I was a little kid.”
Of course, now the real work begins for Palmer-Brown. He’ll be trying to turn the potential that Sporting KC’s staff sees in him into a playing career on the field — and a return on the club’s investment.
“Ninety percent of the work, fight and development is going to come from (Palmer-Brown),” Vermes said. “We’re here to guide and try to push him in the right direction, but he’s the one who has to ultimately do it every day.”
Fortunately, Palmer-Brown, who plays for the U.S. men’s under-17 national team and first appeared in a Sporting KC Reserve League game in June 2012, seems to realize that.
“Every day it’s going to be a challenge,” Palmer-Brown said. “It’s not like I can say, ‘Oh, today I can take the day off.’ I want to be able to get better, be able to learn from my experiences and grow as a player here and as a person.”
Budgeting is suddenly among the other skills Palmer-Brown needs to develop now that he’ll receive an annual salary for playing soccer.
“I was just like, ‘What am I going to do? Now that I’m getting paid, what am I going do with that money?’” said Palmer-Brown, who said his first big purchase will probably be new golf clubs.Sapong returns to Orlando City
Forward C.J. Sapong hopped a flight for Orlando on Thursday morning, returning to Sporting KC’s USL Pro affiliate for a pair of weekend games.
Sapong is expected to play in Orlando City SC’s matches Saturday and Sunday, which will give him five appearances with the Lions and make him eligible for USL Pro postseason play.
Sapong, the 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year, has one goal and one assist in 15 games, including nine starts, this season. He has 15 career goals and eight assists in 80 MLS appearances.