There has never been any shred of doubt about Perry Kitchen. He arrived at D.C. United as a readymade professional. He’s been as durable as any player in the league over the last four seasons. In his young MLS career, he’s already seen plenty of highs and lows.
As he continues to develop new dimensions to his game – including his recent scoring prowess – and to earn new opportunities with the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s worth reminding that Kitchen is still merely 23 years old. The real question is how far he will go.
A staple in the midfield
Chris Pontius is D.C. United’s longest tenured player, drafted in 2009. But no member of the Black-and-Red has played more since 2011 than Kitchen (130 games), who took over in the defensive midfield for United the moment he was selected third overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft after one championship-winning season at Akron. Bill Hamid is next (112 games), followed by Pontius, Nick DeLeon and Chris Korb (89 games each).
That year, Kitchen went on to become the first rookie in club history to lead the team in minutes played and was a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year.
The only two missed games of his sophomore campaign in 2012 came while he was with the U.S. under-23 team attempting to qualify for the London Olympics. Kitchen played the other 32 as D.C. United ended a five-year playoff drought and came within a whisker of the MLS Cup final.
In 2013, he was the brightest spot during a dark campaign, taking home team MVP honors while helping United capture the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Last season Kitchen again played 31 games – fewer on the United roster than only Bobby Boswell (34) and DeLeon (32) – and he was second in minutes played (2,790).
He hasn’t missed a minute of 2015, and his contribution against the New York Red Bulls demonstrated the latest steps in his growth as a player.
Adding the offense
Kitchen recorded his first two-goal game with emphatic strikes in D.C. United’s 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls on April 11. But his signature goal might be from the Black-and-Red’s season-defining victory over Sporting Kansas City in August 2014.
With D.C. United already ahead by two goals on a steamy night at Sporting Park, Kitchen burst past the Kansas City back line to latch onto a through ball from Chris Rolfe. Surging into the box, he cut the ball back to his right foot to shed defender Aurelien Collin before powering his shot home. The win sent the Black-and-Red to the top of the Eastern Conference, where they ended the season.
Kitchen’s nose for goal was again on display against the Red Bulls. He rose high above the New York defense to nod home a corner kick in the first half. In the second half, there was only one thing on his mind when he received a pass from Chris Rolfe: blasting a 20-yard shot past goalkeeper Luis Robles.
Taking the team’s early scoring lead shouldn’t be a surprise after Kitchen tallied a career-high five goals and matched his career best with four assists last season.
Combined with his relentless, ball-winning presence in the midfield, it’s the kind of play that helps attract the attention of U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who summoned Kitchen into the national team two days after the New York game.
Presence in the locker room
The U.S. Men’s National Team is still new for Kitchen, who made his debut in February, but he helps set the tone in the United clubhouse. The same rugged, physical player that he’s been since he was drafted, he wants to win in every drill in practice – and in every Ping-Pong game in the player lounge. But his sights are honed in on team success; after the New York game he was ready to sacrifice the two goals to his name for a better result.
Having a locker situated in between Boswell, the team captain, and rookie Miguel Aguilar is fitting. Kitchen is both a United veteran and a young player whose best days are still ahead.