WASHINGTON — Getting through the grind of an MLS season for the first time is no small feat. And at the midway point of 2011, D.C. United’s crop of promising youngsters are learning to cope with the demands of professional soccer.
Through the first half of 2011, a handful of rookies have played a prominent role on one of the league’s youngest teams. Defenders Perry Kitchen (pictured above) and Ethan White have played the most, getting in 14 and 13 games, respectively, while forward Blake Brettschneider and defender Chris Korb have figured into the mix.
The process of adapting to pro life hasn’t been easy for any of them.
“It’s been tough,” Kitchen said. “Through the first half, I think I’m doing pretty well, holding my own. I’ve been playing, which is good. I’m happy about that.”
Said White, “I’m still getting used to it. It’s a long season, so just got to keep grinding it out, listen to the older guys. Even hanging out with them [off the field] helps me with the chemistry on the field.”
There are plenty of experienced veterans on the roster providing guidance — Josh Wolff, Clyde Simms and Chris Pontius, to name a few — not to mention coaches Pat Onstad and Ben Olsen, who both recently ended their playing careers.
But having so many other players going through the same thing is also something upon which United’s first-year players can lean.
"We were fortunate enough with our draft class and with Conor [Shanosky] and Ethan — the guys that were Home Grown, that were signed this past year — that we've got a good group of younger guys you can relate to and bounce ideas off of and stuff like that," Brettschneider said last week. "You have guys who are going through the same stuff and know how you feel on a day-to-day basis."
For those youngsters traveling with to play away regularly, that’s been another adjustment, as it’s something that’s not as prominent in the college game.
“I have never traveled this often — bouncing around the country isn’t bad, just a few flights,” White said. “We get to experience the cities before or after the game.”
Two other rookies have been more peripheral figures: Shanosky, an Academy product who elected to sign a deal with DC last year rather than play college soccer at George Mason University, and Joe Willis, a third-round pick who has been biding his time as the team’s third-string goalkeeper.
Both have made the 18-man roster, but neither has seen a minute on the field in league or Open Cup play.
As the long season continues, the impressive group of rookies will continue to have to chip in — Kitchen and White, in particular — if United are to make a successful push for a playoff spot.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.