Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON — Perry Kitchen had just about everything including the kitchen sink thrown his way in 2011.
As a rookie, Kitchen started 30 of a possible 34 games for D.C. United, splitting time across three positions. He started the season as a centerback, but over the course of the season injuries necessitated a shift to right back. With the season winding down, D.C. coach Ben Olsen tried Kitchen's hand at defensive midfield — where he starred as a national champion for the University of Akron — planting the seeds for his transition there in 2012.
"We did Perry a little bit of a disservice last year and threw him in to any position that was open, because we knew he could handle it," Olsen said.
Kitchen encountered adversity, but he ultimately passed his initial professional test. With that in the rear-view mirror, he is in line for some position stability and structure, taking over as D.C.'s starting defensive midfielder for the upcoming season.
Although Kitchen accepts every task thrown his way like an obedient and trained soldier, there's no question that having a defined role in his preferred spot on the field should make for a smoother second season.
"I played those positions before, so it wasn't that big of a deal, but to kind of have a defined role is definitely better for me as a player and for the team," Kitchen said.
Kitchen inherits the starting defensive midfield spot left behind by Clyde Simms, a gritty D.C. veteran who had spent his whole MLS career with United before being selected by the New England Revolution in the re-entry draft.
While playing behind Simms — either directly behind or off to the right — Kitchen was able to glean a few things from his predecessor.
"He was always in the right spot," Kitchen said. "He's always moving, he's always checking, looking around 360 degrees. I think I kind of picked that up. I kind of had that at Akron, but since I didn't play there in a while it faded out. He just told me to look around, make sure you know what's always around you and just work hard."
Because he was often relegated to defensive duties, Kitchen's offensive arsenal was kept under wraps, but he is more than capable of unleashing an accurate blast from distance a la Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso, Colorado's Jeff Larentowicz or Los Angeles midfield stalwart Juninho.
His 35-yard strike to the upper right-hand corner following a 20-yard run against Michigan in the 2010 College Cup semifinals was emblematic of what he is capable of producing while getting forward. Picking his spots to get into those advanced positions will be part of his new challenge while he looks to mesh with Designated Player and attacking central midfielder Branko Boskovic.
"It's a position that is not an easy one," Olsen said. "Centrally, there's a lot more moving parts to that position. It will take a little time, but he has all the attributes to become a very good central midfielder."
Kitchen's overall attributes and experience from his 2011 balancing act could come in handy this year, as he might be busy balancing different positions for different teams. As a core member of the U.S. Under-23 player pool, Kitchen is a likely candidate to be chosen by his college coach, Caleb Porter, for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying next month.
Balancing club and country is nothing new for Kitchen, who was a starter for the U-20 team that failed to qualify for last summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup. Instead of playing in the midfield, though, he was teamed with Gale Agbossoumonde to form the U.S. centerback partnership. After putting his focus into his new role with D.C., a return to centerback could be in the cards periodically over the course of the next six months.
"I'm not going to complain too much, it's the Olympics," Kitchen said. "If I go, I'll play wherever they put me. I feel like I'm a team guy. I'm not really going to look into that too much if I'm playing a different role."
Kitchen has missed the last two U-23 camps because of a turf toe ailment that he picked up while taking part in offseason training with SC Freiburg following the November U-23 camp in Germany. He says he is fully healed and is now a full participant in United's preseason.
"I definitely felt it for a few weeks, but I'm way passed the recovery period," Kitchen said. "I'm 100 percent ready to go."
Kitchen has yet to take part in a camp under Porter, as Claudio Reyna and Tab Ramos ran the camp in Germany. That could change later this month, when Porter holds another camp to narrow down his player pool even more ahead of next month's qualifiers. Along with goalkeeper Bill Hamid, Kitchen is a good bet to pull off double duty for D.C. and the U-23s.
"We can handle it," Hamid said. "Perry's a class act. He's good on and off the field."
Even with his reputation, past success and connection to Porter, though, Kitchen is taking nothing for granted. He is all too familiar with how plans can change on the fly.
"I'm not going to expect to be (called in) but I would hope," Kitchen said. "I'm going to work hard and try my best to be a part of that, and we'll see how it plays out."