CARSON, Calif. – Perry Kitchen looks around him and can't help but beam. It's winter, and the sun is out, a blazing 80 degrees with a sweet ocean breeze, and look at all this talent surrounding him.
The 25-year-old holding midfielder didn't expect to be here, at StubHub Center, preparing for his first MLS campaign since 2015. He was happy in Denmark, where he was the regular No. 6 for Randers, and thought there was more to come in his European adventure.
Then Sigi Schmid came calling, and so here he is, one of the most critical of pieces the LA Galaxy have brought in as it seeks a return to normalcy following last year's worst-in-MLS campaign. When big clubs come sniffing around, you take notice, and the Galaxy, Kitchen says, “is a big club.”
“There's a lot of history here, a lot of trophies won, and that kind of speaks for itself, sells itself,” Kitchen told MLSsoccer.com. “It's a great club, it's a great place to be, and, to be honest with you, I wasn't planning on coming back to MLS this soon. I was enjoying Europe and that experience, but when this came about, you know, it was too good to pass up.”
And so he joined the parade of newcomers designed to propel the Galaxy forward as Schmid, hired last July, managed a makeover akin to Bruce Arena's when he arrived near the end of the 2008 season, the last time LA previously missed the playoffs. There's a new goalkeeper (David Bingham, from San Jose), two new backline starters (Norway's Jorgen Skjelvik and Swiss-born Venezuelan Rolf Feltscher) and maybe a third (draft pick Tomas Hilliard-Arce, from Stanford), a new goalscorer (Ola Kamara, from Columbus) and greater depth all over the field.
Kitchen might be the linchpin of the group, the rock at No. 6 who offers strong defensive cover, links the backline to the attack, and provides leadership in the middle. Give him a year or two, and he'll likely be wearing the captain's armband.
“I've seen Perry play for a long time, and I think it's not accident that Akron [in 2010] won their one [NCAA] title the one year he was there," said Schmid. "Every place he's been, he's shown himself to be a leader. He might not like this quote, but I think if you put tape over his mouth, he couldn't play in the game.
“He's a player that has to talk, and he's constantly organizing, and that's the kind of player that I thought was important for our team. He'll help get us on the same page defensively, he'll help us on our transition, and on top of that, he's a hard-working player, he's a good player, and he's a good passer of the ball.”
Kitchen in preseason action vs. NYCFC | LA Galaxy
LA first expressed interest shortly after their worst-in-MLS campaign ended last October. Schmid and technical director Jovan Kirovski visited Kitchen in Denmark, and the process began. They had to trade for his rights, sending D.C. United $200,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and $100,000 in General Allocation Money, secure his transfer from Randers, and reach an agreement on a contract. Things got serious around Christmas, and the deal was announced Jan. 9.
“It was a little complicated to get it all done, because you had the D.C. piece to fit in as well,” Schmid said. “Between players you need to acquire to improve your team and also foreign limitations – in terms of how many foreign players you can have – he seemed like a good alternative [to going after a top holding midfielder from abroad], somebody who could fill a need and at the same time was an American player.”
Kitchen never started fewer than 30 games a season in five seasons at D.C. United. He was a regular with Scottish Premier League team Hearts, where he was promoted to captain half a year into his tenure, until Ian Cathro moved the team in another direction a year ago, and was the first-choice central midfielder for Randers. He and his wife, Alexa, experienced life in two of Europe's cultural centers: Edinburgh and Aarhus.
“When you experience new things, you look at things differently,” he said. “You maybe have a little bit more of an understanding. I definitely do for foreigners coming into America now, because I was a foreigner, and you just don't understand things the way that [the natives] do or the way that they're used to. I grew as a player, but also as a person.”
He was able to follow MLS while abroad – games were shown on television in Scotland and Denmark, “and they even have review shows and stuff” – and found plenty of interest in and respect for the league in Europe.
“If you mention Galaxy, everyone knows Los Angeles,” he said. “Everybody knows New York and LA. All the Scottish guys I played with, they've seen Beckham and Gerrard play here, so in their eyes, it's probably the biggest [American] club. Guys were always wondering what the league's about, how things were going over here, and they were definitely keen on coming over. ... The respect level is going up, especially as they're watching the games. They can really understand the level and that it is good over here.”
Kitchen says he would have “probably stayed” with Randers had the Galaxy not come calling, but he's happy to be back in MLS and in the situation he's in and arrives with some lofty aspirations.
“It's a huge privilege to play with these guys,” he said. “To have Jonathan [dos Santos] to my side and [his brother] Gio in front of me, it's definitely the best central squad I've been a part of. ... I want to enjoy my time back in MLS. Try to help this team get back in the playoffs. Win trophies. Get the team back to where it should be, where it deserves to be.”