Q&A: Perry Kitchen

Precocious 21-year-old midfielder enters third season with great expectations

Perry Kitchen - 2012

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Last week, you said you didn’t feel at peak form yet. Where are you at this week?
Perry Kitchen: Fitness-wise, pretty good. I was just talking along the lines that, you know, coming toward the end of the season, you’re usually hitting your stride – everything is kind of coming easy to you or whatever. You know, the win [against Real Salt Lake] always helps. For me personally, I think it’s coming, but as a team as well, there’s still a few things we need to clean up, whether it’s easy giveaways or mental sharpness. I think that will come, and like I said, it’s great to get a win and just start us off.

What started to click for you at the end of last year, carrying over to this year that maybe wasn’t as present in your game during your rookie season?
PK: Well, we got into somewhat of a rhythm [last season], me and the guys, just knowing our roles, knowing what we had to do, and we went into games – some weren’t pretty – but we knew what we had to do and we were getting results. So, we just kind of stuck to that game plan and it worked, so we’re trying to get back to that.

You logged the most minutes on the team your rookie season and were one minute away from tying Jeff Agoos’ single-season club record from 1996. How much gas do you think you have in the tank this year?
PK: Yeah, I’m just going to keep playing, try to stay as healthy as possible. Doing the extra things that some of the other guys have told me, like [Dwayne De Rosario] said, ‘If you want to play until you’re my age, you gotta take care of your body. Make sure you do the ice baths, yoga, all of these little things because it will help you.’ Especially when I’m his age, hopefully I’m still playing.

Are there any other specific pieces of advice that DeRo has passed along?
PK: I would say, it’s not necessarily something that he has told me, but just in general – the trainers, coaches – at this point, I know what’s good for me and what’s bad. So obviously a lot of carbs, chicken, pasta – everything like that is good for you. Gotta stay away from the sweets, but if you have to eat ‘em, right after training because you might need some quick calories.

Any superstitions with the meals you eat right before a gameday?
PK: It varies. As long as it’s similar – chicken, pasta. I guess I’m kind of superstitious. I always have a sub from Subway around lunchtime and back to the chicken and pasta right before the game.

In spending so much time on the field, especially in such a physical role, how have you been able to stay injury-free so far?
PK: Well, you know, trying to do the little things right off the field – trying to take care of my body. Some of that, I guess, has to do with luck, too to stay injury-free for this long. But, just doing the little things right and hopefully, stay injury-free.

Over your playing career, have you mostly been able to avoid any major injuries?
PK: For the most part, yeah. I’ve messed up both of my wrists and stuff, but nothing on my legs. Well, when I was in second grade, but nothing in the recent past.

Out at training, folks watching just marvel at what you’re able to do fitness-wise, whether it’s doing non-stop push-ups or lapping people on the track. Have you always been such a machine?
PK: [laughs] Kind of, I guess. I’ve grown up doing push-ups and sit-ups a lot, so I guess that’s why I’m decent at those. And I don’t know – I just always try to push myself as much as I can, whether it’s doing push-ups or whatever. So, yeah, just trying to push myself to my limit.

Do you ever feel burnt out from training and playing, day in and day out?
PK: Yeah, I do. Everyone’s different, but for me, sometimes you just have to forget about soccer, whether it’s for a day or a couple of days and just focus on something else. I’ve been trying to find a, I guess, hobby to keep me away and we have a little golf machine or golf virtual thing where you can actually play. It’s a little room in my apartment complex and I’ve tried to do that, just to get away. Everybody’s different, but it’s definitely a long season, so you have to stay focused.

Last week, Brandon McDonald revealed that he calls you “Slippy Feet.” Did you know that?
PK: [laughs] Yeah, I didn’t get that one, but I like it.

Any other nicknames you have picked up throughout the years?
PK: Not really, to be honest. P. Kitchen, PK, that’s about it.

Having played defense your first year, holding midfielder last year and defensive mid again this year, with a bit more emphasis on joining the attack, do you ever feel overwhelmed by wearing so many different hats in such a short period of time?
PK: Somewhat overwhelming, but you have to take it all in and absorb as much information as you can because me being pretty young, I have to develop my skills because if I don’t, I’m gonna kind of even out. So, I’m just trying to get better everyday and I think me getting forward is definitely something I want to focus on and what they’ve been telling me to.

Is that in the spirit of generating more offense with more players on United or with the larger picture in mind with your future, potentially on the U.S. National Team?
PK: First, I’m always gonna do what’s best for the team, so I think if as a defensive midfielder, if I can become a threat – you look at the best [defensive] mids in our League or even the world, guys like [Osvaldo] Alonso or Beckerman, they’re getting forward, getting shots off. So, even if you’re a deep-line player, you always have to keep tabs on them because if they do shoot and score, then it’s another thing to worry about. So, just trying to get to that level and I know with [the coaching staff’s] help, it’s possible.

That defensive midfield role is pretty deep on the National Team right now, but a lot of folks would like to see you enter the mix. What’s it going to take to get in the fray?
PK: Well, just staying focused on what I have to do here and I can’t worry about what I can’t necessarily control on that side of things. I just have to keep playing my best here and hopefully catch somebody’s eye, but you know, if not, I’m just gonna keep trying my best here and hope that leads to something.

Have you sought advice about those larger aspirations from [Head Coach] Ben Olsen or [Assistant Coach] Josh Wolff, who both played for the National Team in their heyday?
PK: Not specifically. No, not really, to be honest. But I mean, I don’t know, I think they kind of think the same way as me. If I keep progressing and focusing on what I have here, those things can come.

Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your life in soccer?
PK: Probably my dad. Him and my mom would both travel to the games and stuff, but obviously my dad is going to be tougher on me. He’d always be honest with me and say, ‘Look, you did good.’ Or, ‘It wasn’t good enough.’ So, he’s definitely helped me out in that aspect, just to not be complacent, to not just think that I’m there yet. He’s always like, ‘Yeah, you played well, but this could get better.’

Did your dad ever play soccer at any point in his life?
PK: [Laughs] Well, it’s kind of funny – when my brother and I were kids, he played football, baseball, ‘manly’ sports, I guess, as ‘they’ would say. And we started kicking the ball around and he said, ‘My kids aren’t playing this sissy sport.’ But now he loves the game. You know, at first it took him a while to get used to, but he’s a huge fan.

So, you and your brother playing sort of converted him into a soccer fan?
PK: Yeah, well he did play, like, men’s league, but nothing serious. At first, he was like, ‘They’re not playing that,’ but now he loves it.

Does he get into any other leagues around the world, or is it mainly D.C. United and MLS that he keeps up with?
PK: Yeah, he does. He just likes watching, you know, good games in Europe, whether it’s Barcelona or whatever Champions League. But yeah, if there’s a good game on, he’ll definitely watch it.

Who, off the field, has taken a big role in shaping you as a person, would you say?
PK: I’d say [my dad] for sure. My dad served [in the military] for a couple of years, but he didn’t go on any tours or anything like that. Yeah, he definitely disciplined me and my family.