Erik Palmer-Brown's impending departure from Sporting Kansas City didn't come as a huge surprise to many people, with the US youth international center back in the final year of his contract and a successful U20 World Cup, but it does leave some questions. After signing for the club when he was only 16, Palmer-Brown is set to depart for Europe, with Manchester City (and then a loan) being the landing spot. Palmer-Brown has appeared in 16 league games for Sporting over his career so far, 10 of them starts. Six of those appearances and four of those starts have come in 2017 when he's replaced Ike Opara or Matt Besler after beating Kevin Ellis out for the third center back spot.
The big question regarding Palmer-Brown's departure is whether Kansas City made the right moves in regards to his departure and whether they could have done more to potentially get something out of a deal from a team.
Before Palmer-Brown even signed with the club there was already interest in him, with reports of Juventus having a $1 million bid on the table for the teenager around the time he signed. Those rumors persisted for years after Palmer-Brown signed and despite other clubs at times popping up for the longest time Juventus was the only club that had made formal contact with Sporting regarding interest in Palmer-Brown. Then in 2016, Palmer-Brown went on a yearlong loan to Portuguese giants, Porto. The deal to Porto was a loan-to-buy that expired at the end of the 2016 calendar year. When Porto decided against the purchase option in the deal Palmer-Brown returned to Kansas City this year for the final year of his contract. KC didn't sell him during either of the windows this year and he'll now depart for Europe at the end of the season while KC will get no transfer fee, but will retain Palmer-Brown's MLS rights when/if he returns.
So there have been numerous times at least publicly where there has been foreign interest in Palmer-Brown, so was letting him go for free the right move for Kansas City? Probably not originally, but given the situation that KC is in at this point, retaining his MLS rights was probably the best move for Sporting.
While KC probably entertained the offers from Juventus originally, Sporting likely also held off with the expectation that Palmer-Brown would continue to improve and raise the asking price from clubs for the player. The big move in regards to a move to Europe is the loan to Porto last year. The loan-to-buy deal that Sporting and Porto worked out seemed like a great move for both clubs. Sporting got to let Palmer-Brown go to Europe, somewhere he wanted to go, and test himself. It also gave the club a readymade deal in place for the player should he impress. For Porto they got to "test drive" a US youth international considered one of the better center backs at his age. By all accounts, Palmer-Brown impressed with Porto B as they won the 2015-2016 Portuguese second division with Palmer-Brown being an important part of their defense. He also earned himself a spot on the bench for the first team early in the 2016-2017 season. Porto fans that I'd seen on line were excited about the potential of bringing him in permanently and most seemed to expect it to be a forgone conclusion that he would join the club. In the end though Porto and Sporting didn't agree on a sale price (with rumors that Porto didn't have the funds available to make the move) and Palmer-Brown returned to KC.
Sporting meanwhile had moved on from Palmer-Brown with the expectation that he wouldn't be returning in 2017. KC put all their eggs for the sale of Palmer-Brown in the Porto basket and when that deal fell through, Sporting had Palmer-Brown returning with just a year left on his deal. His return to Sporting though was cut short as he left for the US U20 World Cup qualifying and then returned from there injured. Meanwhile, Sporting KC was starting the season off extremely well defensively, allowing just three goals in their first nine games of the season with Matt Besler and Ike Opara forming a strong defensive partnership in central defense. To allow Palmer-Brown to finish recovering and get him game time ahead of the U20 World Cup, Sporting loaned Palmer-Brown to the Swope Park Rangers, playing in five games before departing for the World Cup. Once Palmer-Brown returned from the World Cup where the US fell in the quarterfinals, Palmer-Brown slowly worked his way into the team, displacing Ellis as the club's third center back, where he's at now with less than 10 games left in the season.
So did Sporting botch a potential transfer fee for the best homegrown player they've produced up to this point?
While I don't think it's as disastrous as some people have made it out to be, at the same time it's not a good look for the club, losing a very talented player for nothing. The Juventus deal at the time it was offered was an easy one for Kansas City to turn down and really shouldn't even come up much. At the time Kansas City still had high hopes for Palmer-Brown and his ability to develop, agreeing to sell him so early would have been seen as short sighted by the club.
The Porto deal is where things look to get a little dicey. The move on its own was a good one for all the parties involved as mentioned earlier, it worked well for both teams and the player. Sporting's expectation the entire time was that Porto would exercise their option to buy Palmer-Brown. When Porto didn't purchase, it showed the flaw in Kansas City's plan and the point where KC botched the potential transfer. Without a backup plan and Palmer-Brown in the final year of his contract KC was either going to get run through the cleaners or choose to just sit and retain Palmer-Brown's rights if he ever returned.
In the end the saga wasn't a complete botch by Sporting KC, they had help in the process, but there was certainly some parts of the situation that KC didn't handle as well as they could. KC has had Palmer-Brown in their academy since he was 13 and in the end they'll only retain his rights should he return to MLS. The club didn't cash in on his ability and they also didn't use it enough when he played, having appeared in just 21 games (14 starts) across all competitions in his career with KC. The group that may end up regretting this the most though is Porto. If Palmer-Brown turns into the player that everyone thinks and says he can over the next few years, Porto will regret the fact that they didn't purchase him for $2 million when they had the chance. But whether that is true or not will take years to be proven one way or the other.