Born in Monrovia, Liberia, and now a U.S. permanent resident, Martin Browne, Jr.’s journey has taken him from youth club soccer in Minnesota to a potential appearance for the Liberian national team in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Browne first began playing the game in his native country, and drew upon a lineage that includes uncles Henry Browne and Ezekiel Doe. Henry Browne presently serves as the Liberia Football Association’s technical director and, as a coach, has won the Gothia Cup — a notably large international youth tournament held since 1975 in Gothenburg, Sweden — three times. Doe was a forward who played for the same Liberian club that George Weah had several years prior (Invincible Eleven), enjoyed a five-year professional career in the U.S., and was capped multiple times by the Lone Stars.
Upon arriving in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Martin Browne played club soccer for the Wings Nationals, winning back-to-back state championships in 2004 and 2005. A 2005 Minnesota All-State Soccer selection as a senior, the Liberian expat graduated from Osseo High School and subsequently enrolled at Western Illinois University.
Browne took to the collegiate game immediately. As a freshman, he earned a litany of awards: 2006 NSCAA Midwest All-Midwest Regional Team honors, College Soccer News All-Freshman Team honors, Mid-Con Newcomer of the Year, First Team All-Mid-Con honors, and a pair of Mid-Con Offensive Player of the Week nods.
Following a slight sophomore swoon and an injury-shortened junior season, Browne rebounded in his senior campaign and was selected to the All-Summit League Second-Team, ending his Leathernecks career with totals of 24 goals and 16 assists.
After college, Browne returned to Minnesota. The midfielder counted several members of the Liberian diaspora as teammates while playing in the NPSL and captained the Minnesota TwinStars in 2013 and 2014. His 2015 and 2016 seasons were spent with the Minnesota United Reserves (in the NPSL and Premier League of America, respectively), though Browne did not feature much in the summer of 2016 due to an injury.
The midfielder was healthy enough to play for Minneapolis City in the Crows’ first USOC qualifier, starting in the 2-1 victory over Oakland County FC, in Blaine, Minn. on Oct. 22, 2016.
“I usually make season highlight videos, but I didn’t play much last summer due to my [left] meniscus tear,” said Browne. “I made a video from the highlights of the Open Cup game. The Lone Stars’ coach, James Debbah, got a chance to see the video, I think through my uncle. He gave me a call, he liked what he saw, and while he didn’t promise I’d get a chance to play, he said there was an opportunity with the games coming up.”
[I]t was obviously a huge honor for me — something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.
– Martin Browne
Asked if he was expecting that call, which occurred last March, Browne replied, “I really had no idea. My uncle and I have had this conversation about getting the opportunity for me to try and go back and play for the national team. But it’s always just been a conversation. When I heard about it from the coach, it was obviously a huge honor for me — something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.”
The games referenced by Debbah were supposed to be a March 24 friendly against Egypt in Cairo and a March 28 friendly against Mauritania in Nouakchott. When those games were canceled, Browne’s call-up was put on indefinite hold.
On Monday morning, Browne and his current NPSL club, Minneapolis City, received word he is being called up for Liberia’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier away to Zimbabwe on June 11.
“It’s a blessing in disguise, happening now.” said Browne. “I’m a lot healthier. Coming after [Minneapolis City’s] preseason and two games into the NPSL season, I’ve had more time to recover from my knee injury.”
Also on the highlight video that drew Debbah’s attention to Browne was Martin’s younger brother, Whitney, with the latter scoring a brace in the 2-1 U.S. Open Cup victory. Asked if the elder sibling planned to recommend the younger, Martin offered, “From the video, the coach already asked about him. I wouldn’t mind putting in a good word for him, but we need him to put in the work first. This season with [Minneapolis] City is very important for him, to step up and show what’s he’s capable of, if he’s looking for those kinds of opportunities.”
It means a lot to our parents to be able to see us play together.
– Martin Browne
Martin’s tough love (so to speak) for Whitney is tempered by an excitement for the current NPSL season. Separated by a few years in age, and having attended different colleges, the two brothers haven’t had many opportunities to play as teammates.
“It means a lot to our parents to be able to see us play together,” stated Martin. “It’s important for me, because I’d like to be able to mentor [Whitney] as he goes through the struggles of trying to become a professional.”
Turning his attention briefly to the logistics of traveling to Africa for the call-up, FiftyFive.One asked Browne for his thoughts on changes in the ease of international travel, to and from the U.S., that have occurred under the Trump administration. On whether or not, as a permanent resident, those changes posed a concern, Browne reflected, “My wife is here and Minnesota has been my home for 15 years. It’s definitely something, being an immigrant, to think about. But the honor of representing Liberia outweighs any potential risk.”
All other concerns aside, Browne’s focus remains on the opportunity and call-up in front of him. “It’s just a huge honor for me, with everything I’ve been through. The injuries, being 29 now, all the work and the sacrifices I’ve made are leading up to something, finally. I’m very grateful.”
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