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SSFC Spotlight: Nathaniel Brown enjoys rising profile in Germany

The dual-national defender is getting his time in the sun.

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1. FC Kaiserslautern - 1. FC Nuremberg Photo by Thomas Frey/picture alliance via Getty Images

There was a time when German-American players dominated the dual-national conversation, with observers keeping a weather eye on the Bundesliga for potential additions to the United States Men’s National Team. While recruiting battles have become a globetrotting necessity for most programs, the Central European republic remains home to many eligible talents. With over a month of the new season elapsed, Nathaniel “Nene” Brown has reached a new level. The 20-year-old 1. FC Nürnberg fullback is a week in, week out starter in the 2. Bundesliga and recently earned his first youth national team call-up.

Born in Amberg to an American father (US-Amerikaner Vater), Brown played with SSV Jahn Regensburg before joining the Nürnberg academy. He competed at the U-17 and U-19 levels, helping the latter finish at second in the Bundesliga South/Southwest table while demonstrating a high level of athleticism and attacking ability. His debut with the reserves came in March of 2022, featuring in seven matches, after which the club rewarded him with a long-term professional contract.

Last season, Brown split time between the second and first teams, focused on learning from his more experienced teammates. He made 20 appearances in the Regionalliga Bayern, contributing one goal and four assists. In the early stages of the 2. Bundesliga season, the manager included him on the bench, but his senior debut waited until the second half of the schedule.

In March, Brown earned his first single minute, making a cameo substitution in a 2-0 victory over Eintracht Braunschweig. His season ended with 11 appearances in the second division of German soccer, assuming the primary left back role and starting the final six matches. He had a solid run of form, first providing an assist in a 2-1 loss to Holstein Kiel. The following week, his opening goal secured a 2-0 win against Fortuna Düsseldorf – the low, driven effort from outside of the box was calmly placed into the bottom corner. Local media questioned “why it took so long” for the young defender to get his chance, as his contributions helped stave off dreaded relegation amidst reported financial issues.

Heading into the current season, the club rewarded him with a contract extension for an unstated length of time, praising his hard work and passion while noting his status as an unfinished product. Expected to play a key role for Der Club (The Club), Brown is firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, making six appearances across all competitions and going the full 90 minutes in four. The left fullback position was considered a duel between the homegrown and a more established veteran working his way back from injury, but the manager seems to be standing by the younger option due to his strong performances. Nürnberg is currently in 11th place in the 2. Bundesliga table with a 2-1-2 record, with potential promotion already beginning to slip out of reach.

“It’s special when you come from here,” Brown shared with Bayerischer Rundfunk. “I’ve been playing here for seven years. That’s very special. I just want to play as much as possible. Be successful with the team, play nice football so that the fans come to the stadium.”

At the international level, Brown is eligible to represent Germany and the United States. He recently earned his first call-up to the former program, being named to the U-21 national team for a friendly with Ukraine and a European Championship qualifier against Kosovo – his contribution included 45 minutes and a start in the first fixture and the full 90 in the second. At 20 years old, the defender is eligible for the upcoming Olympic Games, although his current commitment appears pellucid.

Standing six feet tall, Brown primarily lines up at left fullback but possesses the versatility to play centre-back, center midfielder, and winger. His club manager praises his intensity and ability to create problems for the opponent, describing him as “very clever” in duels. Bild notes his “slim stature” can be an issue in tackles, although any deficiencies are overcome with craft and speed.

“Though his slight frame and unassuming features don’t immediately catch the eye, Brown’s intelligence and maturity on the football pitch have made him a huge hit since getting his first opportunity last March,” writes Jacek Kulig for Football Talent Scout. “He can be adequately deployed as either an inverting left-back or central midfielder, even switching between the two roles throughout a match in the style of an Oleksandr Zinchenko or João Cancelo. While he must still develop his defensive positioning and creativity in attacking 1v1s, the emergence of Brown’s versatile skill set, and his excellent ability to navigate tight spaces, was one of the few bright spots to have arisen from the otherwise dreary bygone Nuremberg season.”

Having made the initial breakthrough last season, Brown is currently enjoying a rapid ascent for both club and country. He is gaining crucial playing time and professional experience, which could potentially lead to a transfer, as bigger outfits are always on the lookout for high performing young talents. Whether his career path leads to the USMNT remains to be seen, although the program has enjoyed a string of successes when choosing to enter recruiting battlegrounds.