At just barely 21-years-old, D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen is about as steadying of a force as you’ll find someone his age. In his inaugural campaign with the Black-and-Red in 2011, Kitchen led the club in minutes played – the only rookie in its 18-year history to do so – en route to an MLS Rookie of the Year nomination. And last season, the Indiana native was just one minute shy of breaking United’s single-season minutes record (2,805), set by Jeff Agoos in 1996. Four games into the 2013 season, Kitchen does not appear to be slowing down from his current pace.
“Yeah, I’m just going to keep playing, try to stay as healthy as possible,” said Kitchen when asked about managing his large workload. “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.”
Even down to his game-day attire, Kitchen never strays – shin guards seemingly non-existent under socks that barely make it past his ankles and short sleeves, always short sleeves, even when the temperature dips to the teens and everyone around him is bundled up in cold-weather gear. But while Kitchen’s demeanor and work rate has remained constant, his tactical responsibilities have shifted several times since he joined the club. In 2011, the rookie stepped in to fill a void in the backline and played out of position for much of the year. Last season, Kitchen returned to a more natural holding midfielder role, which he has retained this season, but now with a much greater emphasis placed on joining the attack.
“First, I’m always gonna do what’s best for the team,” said Kitchen. “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 [Kyle] Beckerman, they’re getting forward, getting shots off.”
Perhaps even more impressive than the big burden of responsibility Head Coach Ben Olsen has placed on him as a young player is the health Kitchen has been able to maintain, especially in such a physical position. Only one instance over the course of two years with D.C. United provided a tangible scare to Kitchen, teammates, coaches and fans alike. Playing at the Houston Dynamo’s new stadium opener on May 12, 2012, Kitchen went down with a knee injury and was subbed out of the match in the 29th minute. Fearing the worst, Olsen and company were relieved to see Kitchen’s MRI come up negative a few days later.
“[I’ve avoided major injuries] for the most part, yeah,” said Kitchen. “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.”
But soccer, and the potential perils that come with the game, wasn’t always in the cards for Kitchen. Well, at least if his dad, Chris, a traditionalist with military ties, could help it. Growing up in the Midwest, football and baseball dominated the sports landscape and the elder statesman from the Kitchen family wasn’t entirely sold on soccer.
“Well, it’s kind of funny – when my brother and I were kids, [my dad] 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.’”
Eventually, Kitchen’s father would come around and now he can’t get enough of it.
“At first, he was like, ‘They’re not playing that,’ but now he loves it… But yeah, if there’s a good game on, he’ll definitely watch it,” said Kitchen.
Good thing, too, because a senior U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) call-up seems to be on the horizon. Kitchen has represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels, most recently serving as vice captain of the U.S. U-23s during 2012 Olympic qualifying, but has yet to be recalled by USMNT Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann. American central midfielders, it would seem, come by the dozen; the likes of Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Danny Williams are some preferred options as of late.
“I can’t worry about what I can’t necessarily control on that side of things,” said Kitchen about the U.S. talent he competes with for a slot on the National Team. “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.”