Jurgen Klinmann’s call-ups for the most recent January camp contained a few names known only to the most knowledgeable MLS fans. One of those was DC United’s Perry Kitchen, who may not be famous but has long been the next big name in U.S. soccer and, because of his position, may be a key name in the 2018 World Cup and beyond.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but consider his career to this point. Kitchen played one year in college for the Akron Zips, coached by now-Portland coach Caleb Porter. In that year he was well regarded enough to receive a trial offer from Anderlecht but instead chose to sign a Generation Adidas from MLS, meaning more money and playing time. Regarded as a top-two pick, he fell to DC United with the third pick where he played well enough to garner Rookie of the Year consideration and play the most minutes of anyone on the team. The defensive midfielder was one bright spot in a historically bad 2013 season for the Black-and-Red, and in the past year he scored a career high five goals and provided four assists as DC United finished atop the Eastern Conference. He has been a rock for the team, appearing in 125 games (124 starts) in four seasons.
Coming out of college, his biggest strength was as a midfield disrupter, someone who could be counted on to snuff out any quick counters from opponents. Over the past four years, though, he has added to his game as his goal total shows. In 2014, Ben Olsen tended to pair him with Davy Arnaud to allow the two midfielders to play off each other in controlling play and ranging forward. The Black-and-Red’s vastly improved defense also allowed him to range forward without having to worry about the quality behind him. More than past years you’d see the former Zip running forward and looking to create opportunities, as well as being more of a threat on set pieces.
International duty is not unfamiliar to Kitchen (he featured on the U.S. U-23 team that disastrously lost its Olympic bid) but the call-up is well timed. Klinsmann undoubtedly is beginning to look for a replacement for an aging Kyle Beckerman, a player he absolutely trusts and likes as a defensive midfielder who can spur his attack. Like the Real Salt Lake player, Kitchen may always be a very good MLS player without receiving a ton of international attention but training with the national team will give him the chance to play against skill he may not see in MLS. In truth, Kitchen needs to work on his positioning so he does not have to default to using his hands to defend (which is too common and overlooked in MLS).
It may be hasty to say Perry Kitchen may be the new (and better) Kyle Beckerman. But depending on how he does in camp and how he continues to develop, he may quickly move to the top of the pecking order in the USMNT defensive midfielder order when it matters.
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