Sam Brotherton became the latest Premier Development League alum to sign a professional contract with a Premier League club when he inked a deal with Sunderland AFC on Feb. 1, and he is eager to make an impression with the Black Cats in 2017.
The talented defender competed for the Des Moines Menace during the 2016 PDL regular season, playing a total of seven matches (630 minutes) – which includes two appearances in the PDL Playoffs.
“I enjoyed my short time playing in Des Moines. The club did their best to do things professionally, and looked after their players well,” Brotherton told USLPDL.com. “There was a good bunch of lads playing in Des Moines last summer, with a good coach in Mike Matkovich, who I liked working with.
“I didn’t spend long playing in the PDL, but it exposed me to new players, coaches and put me in challenging situations and competitive games,” he added. “I feel that this was all beneficial to my development as a player.”
Building off his success in the PDL, Brotherton recorded a strong season for the University of Wisconsin, scoring three goals in 16 total appearances.
“I chose to play for Wisconsin because it has an amazing athletic program, and it is also a world-class university,” the defender said. “When [Badgers] Coach [John] Trask made the commitment to come to New Zealand and meet my family and me, I knew that I was going to be well looked after, and that was certainly the case.
“The most enjoyable thing about playing at Wisconsin was that my teammates were my best friends,” he added. “As students and athletes, we did everything together and faced the same challenges. This made playing and fighting together on the field especially gratifying.”
The defender earned 2016 All-Big Ten Second Team honors for his efforts during the fall season, but wanting to train and compete year-round at a high level, he decided to forgo his final two years at Wisconsin for a pro contract.
“I decided to sign with Sunderland because it is a prestigious club with a great academy,” Brotherton said. “I felt that signing for a Premier League club was too good of an opportunity to turn down, and I believe that Sunderland is a great place for me to develop as a player and begin my professional career.
“It is early days, but I enjoy being in a city where everyone is crazy about football and loves the football club. I also enjoy being able to focus on playing football and becoming a better player every day.”
While Brotherton has yet to break into the lineup of an EPL game with Sunderland, he has already played a handful of important matches for the New Zealand Men’s National Team. Brotherton made his international debut for the Kiwis in a 2015 friendly against Oman, and he has continued to receive call-ups since then. He made six appearances for the senior side in 2016, including minutes in three qualifying matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
“Playing for New Zealand has exposed me to top-quality players, their professionalism and training habits,” Brotherton said. “It has taught me the level of attention to detail that is required to succeed at the top, and it has given me the opportunity to train and play alongside and against great players.”
While the PDL alum and the Kiwis hope to make it to the world’s stage in Russia next year, Brotherton is looking to improve upon his speed of play and athleticism with Sunderland this season. Having played his first match – a full 90 minutes – for the Sunderland U23 on March 6, he is well on his way to making a name for himself across the Atlantic.
“I want to settle into life in Sunderland, and become a regular contributor for the U23 side by the end of the season,” Brotherton said. “I want to represent New Zealand at the 2017 Confederations Cup, work hard every single day, and see where it takes me.”