EPB GROWS FURTHER IN BELGIUM
Manchester City sees potential in Erik Palmer-Brown, but until he can qualify for an English work permit he has had to play in Belgium with KV Kortrijk.
This past January, during the "crazy season" known as the soccer transfer window, the recently crowned English champions signed the young American defender MLS team Sporting Kansas City. He was immediately sent out on loan to Kortrijk of the Belgian Pro League and this is where Yanks Abroad caught up with the Ohio native.
What the fans of Kortrijk are most concerned about, other than making it into the next round of the playoffs is if Palmer-Brown will still be playing for their team next season.
"I have no idea," he said still wearing his game face. "I focus on the now and just take it day by day. For me, there are so many possibilities that I don't even know. I just take it day by day and go with the flow."
Although on loan, his parent club does take a very strong interest in his progression, constantly checking in to see how he is performing.
"Someone (from Manchester City) was here tonight (after the Lierse game) and also after the last game. It depends. There are many people on staff. They come, they let you know. You talk to them and they keep in contact over messaging," said the former US Under-20 national team captain.
"I talk with them about my football, my play and look over the games and see what I can do better. After every game, they send the clips; what you did well, what you did badly. I look them over and they get back to you. The coach will talk to you. It's unbelievable."
"Every few days I get a text from someone from City. They're making sure that mentally, that living so far from the States, that I can keep my head in the game. It's amazing."
Palmer-Brown had been on loan before, from Kansas City to Porto, so he is familiar with the drill and living in a foreign country. Since he has played in two foreign countries, he compared "the beautiful game" in Europe and the USA.
"For me, you can see how football is a big part of the culture here. In the States, you have American football, baseball, basketball. I grew up playing three sports and I think that's the way for a lot of kids in the US. My brother plays four sports. Football over here; that's the sport you play when you grow up. So, when you train (in just one sport) that much, you train that serious throughout the week. Just football," Palmer-Brown explained.
"The academy teams, I think they start a little earlier over here. I think now in the States they have U-12, U-14 so it's coming along. It's just the one thing I notice that kids (at home) are playing different sports. Here we're playing mainly football."
With the passion for the game in Belgium and the rest of Europe as well as the fact that Belgium ranks in the top 10 of European soccer leagues, why should young Americans look at this little country as a possible destination?
"That really just depends on what you want to do and what your goals are. For me, it was a goal to play in Europe. It depends," he said. "Some guys want to stay in the States, stay at home, comfort zone, you know. It's not easy living overseas. It's a big decision; it really is. It's up to you and what you feel at the moment and if you feel you can handle it. There are some guys that get really homesick so it's really hard. For me it's just finding a balance; having a happy life and doing stuff outside of football to make myself happy."
And the defender keeps things in perspective and keeps himself busy after he leaves the training ground.
"I live close to the stadium; just across the river. It's really close to the facility. I go to movies. I Facetime friends. I play video games. I'm alone here but I hang out with a Belgian-American family and it's good for me, just to get away from football at times. I hang out with my teammates as well."
There are a few other Americans who play in Belgium as well as many more around the continent. Palmer-Brown has been in touch with some of them.
"I haven't met Ethan (Horvath of Club Brugge). I talk to Juan (Pablo Torres of Sporting Lokeren) every night, Kenny (Saief of Anderlecht) every few days. I'm always talking to Christian (Pulisic), Nick and Juan. That's who I play video games with too," he said.
There is no competition between this band of Americans because, "we all play on the same team, so it's good for us."
Having represented the USA at several youth levels, as well as captaining the winning team in the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, his next goal is to break into the senior team.
"For now I just have to keep performing. I hope to get the call. Going into my first camp was amazing, seeing a lot of my friends from the youth teams. I, of course, really want to get the call but at the same time, it's a privilege. You've got to earn the call, so I've just got to keep going," said Palmer-Brown.
Currently, the USA is still a team without a coach but Palmer-Brown feels that the onus to succeed is on the players.
"I think it's not only the coach, it's on us. We have to step up a level too. We have the Olympics to qualify for too. It's on us, the players to take pride and make the next step for US Soccer, because we've got to make it happen for the next Olympics, for the next World Cup and the Gold Cup," he said. "So we have a lot of goals we need to reach with this new generation of US Soccer players. I feel really confident in all the guys' abilities."
The USA will have friendly games coming up in early June before many of the other teams head off to Russia for the World Cup. Palmer-Brown will be waiting for the call.