Kitchen, Woolard step up in ravaged DC United defense

WASHINGTON — Having conceded eight goals in two games, questions about the D.C. United back line were once again surfacing ahead last week’s home stand. Defensive lapses that had been viral during 2010’s struggles were cropping up again in heavy losses.

Potentially making matters worse, Jed Zayner and Marc Burch, the expected starters at the outside back spots, were sidelined with hamstring injuries. In search of options ahead of last Wednesday’s clash against Seattle Sounders FC, coach Ben Olsen turned to rookie Perry Kitchen and reserve Daniel Woolard to help lift the defense.

Over the next two games, the once ravaged back line responded with two strong defensive performances, conceding one goal in two games last week. The stingy play of Kitchen and Woolard will certainly give Olsen a selection headache ahead of this weekend’s game against Colorado.

“I think both of them have done really well,” central defender Dejan Jakovic said. “Woolard’s done a great job kind of keeping the ball and knowing when to go forward. I think Perry Kitchen has been great. I don’t know if he’s played [right back] before; he looks comfortable, like he’s been playing it for years.”

The buzz about Kitchen before and after the 2011 MLS SuperDraft included where the prospect would play in MLS — either as a central midfielder (as he did at Akron) or in the middle of defense (as he did for the US U-17s and U-20s).

Playing at right back never seemed like a likely option, and prior to last Wednesday, all of his starts had come as a center back.

That being said, right back is not a completely unknown spot to Kitchen, who last played there at the US U-17 Residency program in Florida. The rookie was happy with his performance, but knows that there is room for improvement.

“I’ve played it before, it just takes a little to get back into it, and I haven’t played it as a professional,” he said. “As far as improving, I definitely say getting forward, getting in the right spots because I hadn’t played it in awhile.”

Woolard, who prior to this year last played for the Carolina RailHawks in the USSF D-2, said the success was about adopting the right mentality.

“We came out knowing we had to play more stingy defense and that’s what we’ve done in the last two [games],” he said. We’ve played defensively well as a team. We’ve battled for each other, covered for each other with the mistakes we’ve had.”

According to DC assistant coach Chad Ashton, the Kitchen and Woolard did everything asked of them in last week’s games, but now would want to see a bit more going forward.

“We said we wanted to be better defensively and not give up goals, and you can see what those two brought to the game,” he said. “If we can add a little more attack to it with those guys, we’ll start to get there on both sides of the ball.”