Kitchen living up to early expectations in DC

WASHINGTON – Back in January, D.C. United’s coaching staff was ecstatic when Perry Kitchen was available with the third overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft.

Nearly six weeks later, the tenacious 19-year-old has proved worthy of the hype and buzz created before the draft for the central defender/midfielder from Akron.

“He’s just who we’d thought he’d be,” United coach Ben Olsen said, "a very talented kid who’s ultra-competitive."

Kitchen has lined up exclusively as a center back in the five preseason friendlies in which he’s appeared DC, after playing for Akron as a defensive midfielder during his lone season with the Zips last year.

The shift back to a position with which he’s familiar – he played there for the U. U-17 side at the 2009 World Cup – hasn’t been a difficult one.

“It hasn’t been too big of an adjustment because I’m used to that position,” he said. "I’ve played there for years, so it’s not too much different, just a line back."

While he was a coveted commodity for the coaching staff during the draft season, Kitchen was something of an unknown for his current teammates. As one of the younger members on the roster, he’s had to prove himself in camp to some of the more experienced players around him.

“I’m very impressed with him,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “He’s got a lot of maturity for a young kid. He came in the league at the same age I did, and I certainly wasn’t as vocal or ready to step on the field as he is.”

Whether that means Kitchen starts from the very first game this year, however, is yet to be determined. But it was a good sign during Tuesday’s training session at RFK Stadium that he worked alongside Dejan Jakovic in a possible center back partnership for the 2011 campaign.

“As camp has gone on, he’s taken on a bigger role back there become a pretty verbal leader,” goalkeeper Pat Onstad said. “I think for a guy like Dejan, who’s a quiet but very good defender, it’s a good partnership right now developing.”

Still, Kitchen is eager to finally get out there and play. Competition for starting spots is going to be extremely tough in DC this year, so Kitchen is by no means a lock to start when the season begins against Columbus on March 19 at RFK Stadium.

“He’s going to be in for a wakeup call when he’s going up against guys like Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, who are very good forwards in this league,” McCarty said. “He certainly has the ability to handle it. It’s just going to be about getting the experience.”

Make sure to download the latest episode of ExtraTime Radio, featuring Columbus Crew defender Andy Iro on the CONCACAF Champions League series and ESPN's Allen Hopkins discussing Shalrie Joseph and his role with the New England Revolution.