© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KCUR FM is operating at lower power and KCUR HD1 & HD2 (Classical) are off air while Kansas City PBS performs repair work. Signals will be restored this afternoon.

Sporting KC's Palmer-Brown Balances Professional Soccer With High School

Mike Gunnoe
Sporting Kansas City

As a player for Sporting Kansas City, Erik Palmer-Brown of Lee’s Summit, Mo., is in the big leagues. But at 17, his story is different than any of his teammates.

Palmer-Brown is living a life that most kids his age only dream of. A defender, he last saw action in a friendly match at Sporting Park against Manchester City (July 23) from the English Premier League.

“It was just really fun to be out there against the best team in England right now,” said Palmer-Brown after the match.

In the spring, Palmer-Brown made his Major League Soccer debut at Chicago to become the youngest to play in the league this season. Palmer-Brown accelerated his development at the Sporting Kansas City academy, a program at the team’s practice facility aimed at developing elite youth players. He’s known for his quick feet, and Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes was pleased to see Palmer-Brown mixing it up with the veterans.

“When we first started the academy, he was in our first U-11 group when he first came in. He was like 9 or 10 years old,” says Vermes. “He’s that real first kid that has been through the full academy with us, so it’s great to see him get on the field and play at that level.”

After seeing Palmer-Brown develop for about five years, Sporting approached his mother, Marilyn Palmer, last year about signing her son to a professional contract. She was conflicted.

“Is this what we want to do? What happens if? What happens if he goes to college, hurts himself and never gets to play pro ball?” says Palmer. “It was a check-and-balance list that was just tough to make.”

A year after the deal was signed, she still wonders if she made the right choice to allow it.

“In the house, we live with grandma and grandpa. Me, Erik and (his) brother. A lot of chiefs and only two little Indians,” says Palmer. “There’s a respect conflict with grandma and Erik trying to handle his business. He keeps on saying, ‘It’s my business. It’s my business.’”

Off the field, Erik’s main business is earning his high school diploma at O’Hara High School in Kansas City, not far from his home in Lee’s Summit. That means striking a balance between soccer and quadratic equations in Algebra II.

This week Palmer-Brown is in Argentina to play for the U.S. National Team made up of players under 20. Traveling the world and cashing a paycheck bigger than his mom’s sounds like a good gig, but O’Hara High School assistant principal and counselor Ann Wright said it’s not that simple.

“I think it’s just important for folks to realize how tough it really is to be a full-time professional athlete and try to go to an ordinary, albeit excellent, high school, and trying to fit into a 7:30 to a 3:00 kind of schedule,” said Wright.

Though Palmer-Brown knows his schedule at times leaves no room for fun stuff, he said his friends will pull him through.

“(Let’s) say there is a game on the weekend that I do get rostered for. It’s just missing out on those bonfire nights that you’re all together, but it’s really not that big of a deal because I know the next day they’ll always text me or hang out,” he says.

In the meantime, Palmer-Brown is vying for more playing time with Sporting. But, whether he logs more minutes of game action or not, Marilyn Palmer is still one proud mom.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.