On a quiet, sunny Tuesday morning, Erik Palmer-Brown was one of the final players to depart the Sporting Kansas City practice field. After completing his first training session with the club in four months, he outlined the remainder of his afternoon — hanging out with friends, a trip to the dog park with his puppy, some time for relaxation.
In short: A return to his comfort zone.
There were several weeks away from it. Palmer-Brown spent the past four months residing in Portugal, where he played on loan with Porto B, which last month won its first ever title in the LigaPro, the country’s second division.
He returned to Kansas City this week during the Porto B offseason, but only for a brief stint. He plans to make the trek back overseas for Porto B training camp later this month.
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“For me now, it’s more of a professional lifestyle,” Palmer-Brown said of his time in Portugal. “I go home, and I think about training. I’m eating lunch and then resting up my body for the next day.
“Having two games a week with (Porto) B, it was really taxing on my body. I learned that I need to take care of my body in situations like that. I think I grew up in that aspect of the game.”
The culture change provided the biggest shock to Palmer-Brown, who only a year ago graduated from O’Hara High School. He joined a locker room with Porto B that was not entirely fluent in English, and he continues to Skype with a language professor in hopes of learning Portuguese.
His move overseas transpired in February, when Sporting KC elected to loan its teenage defender to FC Porto through Dec. 31. It was designed, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes explained, to give Palmer-Brown a different perspective on being a professional soccer player.
“Coming from Sporting to Porto, (I learned) the development here is real. It’s top-notch. I can see that now,” Palmer-Brown said. “It made (the transition) easier going from here to there.”
Palmer-Brown, who turned 19 last month, was saddled early in the LigaPro season by a pair of minor hamstring injuries. But he played the full 90 minutes in 10 of the final 13 Porto B regular season matches, appearing in each of them at center back.
Porto B set a regular weekly schedule with matches on Sundays and Wednesdays.
“I learned quickly that I’m not Superman,” Palmer-Brown said. “I’m not as young as I think. Two games in a week will take a toll on anyone, I think.”
It had its benefits, too. During the final stretch of the MLS season last summer, Palmer-Brown labeled fitness as his biggest obstacle to playing time.
He returned to Kansas City this week with a noticeably leaner figured, estimating he had lost 12 pounds.
“Right when I stepped in, I was coming off of preseason, and they were in midseason,” Palmer-Brown said. “So (it took time) getting fit and adjusting to the technical abilities of the players.
“But I just think it was a great, great learning experience for me.”