Minutes after Perry Kitchen fell to D.C. United in last Thursday’s SuperDraft, the question began to dance around the minds of fans and observers alike: Where will Kitchen play in MLS?
His versatility is one of his many strengths, and the question pertains to two spots: defensive midfield, where he played for just one season while at Akron, or center back, where he settled when in the US national team youth setup.
Ben Olsen and his technical staff have indicated that Kitchen will get a look at central defense, but there’s no questioning his capability to play in defensive midfield. While at Akron, he more than adequately replaced two future MLS players in Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, who were both drafted by Chivas USA in 2010.
WATCH: Perry Kitchen highlights
Playing in Akron’s attack-oriented system, Kitchen shouldered tremendous responsibility as a freshman. While the two outside backs would get forward, he would sit in front of the back four and help marshal the defense. His time playing there improved his technical and passing ability, as he had the ball at his feet more often.
Of course, his position at Akron came down to head coach Caleb Porter’s interpretation of where Kitchen would best fit into his team.
When considering the needs of D.C. United and the current state of the club’s roster, center back seems to be the better fit in the immediate future. Last year, DC conceded 47 goals, second-worst in MLS. They’ve taken steps to bolster depth at the back, bringing in Uruguayan Rodrigo Brasesco and Daniel Woolard to compete against incumbents Dejan Jakovic and Julius James for a starting spot.
That and the number of central/defensive midfielders already on the team – Dax McCarty, Clyde Simms and Branko Boskovic – would indicate that his chance to play sooner could come at the back, fighting to start alongside Jakovic or James.
Considering he’s only 18 years old, there’s time to groom Kitchen. However, it’s been widely acknowledged that he is a special talent, and he could push for a starting position as soon as this season. His duties with the US U-20s and a possible appearance in the U-20 World Cup in Colombia this year could hamper his minutes, though.
With preseason around the corner, D.C. United’s technical staff will get a chance to try out Kitchen in both spots up close. And even if his early career starts in central defense, there’s no reason to believe he might not make the transition to defensive midfielder down the road.