WASHINGTON – As D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen met the throng of media assembled in front of his locker on Saturday evening at RFK Stadium, a few of the reporters in attendance noticed something peculiar tucked away on a shelf behind him: a board game. Risk, to be exact.
“Yeah, a few of us play it on long bus rides, we broke it out during preseason,” Kitchen joked.
“Win the game, and you win the world” – so goes the slogan for the game of global domination. And perhaps, in a way, it’s exactly the type of game you’d expect Kitchen to favor: Serious. Tactical. Strategy-based.
Kitchen has been a mainstay in midfield for United since his rookie season in 2011, but only truly blossomed during the awful 2013 campaign. He was a rare ray of light, somehow managing to grow and progress despite the circumstances.
In 2014, the d-mid has only accelerated his development, displaying a sense of confidence and composure on the ball that was perhaps absent from his play in recent years. His teammates – and coaches – have taken note.
“Perry is a young talent,” United center back Jeff Parke told MLSsoccer.com last week. "He’s got a lot of potential and a lot of promise. He’s similar to some of the other guys I’ve played with – Ozzie [Alonso], he’s kind of along the lines of Ozzie – he covers a lot of ground and is a good ball-winner.”
Kitchen covered even more ground during Saturday’s 2-0 win over the New England Revolution, forming an effective partnership with Davy Arnaud, who filled in quite well for an injured Luis Silva. Paired with Arnaud – who has a bit more range and defensive experience than Silva – Kitchen found himself able to wander forward more.
"I know when I leave a spot and try to go put pressure on a ball and try to go forward, I know Perry is going to be there to cover and vice versa,” Arnaud said on Saturday evening. "I told Perry, I know he has the tendency to sit a little bit more, but I told him in the right moment to go ahead because I'm comfortable covering for him as well."
Silva should be game-ready in a few weeks, though Saturday night’s performance will likely make United head coach Ben Olsen’s lineup decision a bit tougher.
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"His comfort level on the ball is very good,” reflected Olsen. "The relationship with him and Luis was coming along nicely. Whoever he pairs with, his job will remain the same - to be a physical presence, break up the game, continue with moving the ball side to side. he covers a lot of ground. He’s been good - he’s steady. "
Still, Kitchen may have some way to go before he's considered among the league's elite defensive midfielders. On Saturday evening, that didn't seem to bother him. When asked whether he feels ready to become one of MLS' best, the Akron product displayed his typical brand of steeliness.
"Absolutely. I think I’m doing the right things – it’s just a matter of staying consistent and having the guys around me help me out, which they’re always doing."