BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, January 5, 2011
With the first US U-20 camp of 2011 underway, one player who stands to be a contributor in the run-up to World Cup qualifying is potential MLS SuperDraft number one pick Perry Kitchen.
Kitchen, 18, entered into camp after he signed a Generation Adidas contract with MLS last week despite having interest from a few European clubs. While negotiations with the league took longer than expected, Kitchen is happy to begin his professional career domestically.
"I was looking at the career paths of other guys that have been on the national team like Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley and they all started out in MLS too," Kitchen told YA. "So I figured it would be a great place to start. It wasn't too hard."
One such club that was interested in Kitchen was perennial Belgian power Anderlecht who were reportedly interested in bringing Kitchen over for a trial in January. Kitchen said it was a possibility but Europe is a place he wants to pursue once he establishes his game in MLS.
"It was an option," Kitchen said of Anderlecht. "But I would love to start out in MLS and eventually make my way over there. I just look at that as more of a future thing."
Kitchen is also confident in the league's ability to develop young talent and groom them into solid professionals with the potential to contribute to the national team.
One important factor in his decision to sign with MLS was the reimplementation of the reserve league to give added playing time to young players.
"I think it's going to be better because of the reserve league coming back into play," the Indianapolis native discussed. "MLS has put a lot of focus into that. Guys who aren't playing games will now get a chance to play. If you were a guy in MLS who wasn't playing games you were pretty much just practicing. I think it's really going to improve the development of players."
Kitchen's MLS draft prospects remain very strong with various analysts projecting him to be the first overall pick.
Shortly after the U20 camp concludes, Kitchen will head to the MLS combine where he will meet with representatives from MLS franchises. His goal is to impress and earn a starting position with the team that elects to draft him.
"I am supposed to meet with all the coaches at the combine," Kitchen said of the upcoming draft and combine. "I will see what the interest is then. Because I'm young doesn't mean I don't want to start or play. My goal is to go into wherever I am at and try to get a starting spot because it's a job now. That's what everyone is working for."
For this week however, Kitchen remains solely focused on the US U-20 national team in what is a very important camp in preparation for U-20 World Cup qualifying in April in Guatemala.
While he missed several camps in 2010 because of the NCAA season, Kitchen rejoined the team in December having last been with the team for their 2010 Milk Cup championship. Based on what he's seen this cycle, he is optimistic of their chances to make a run at the World Cup.
"I think it's a very, very good team," Kitchen assessed. "It's a unique team. All the guys are friends. As much as we have been together, it's a very close knit team. There are quality players. I think it will kind of be like the 2007 team. They made a good run. I think we can do something like that – maybe even better."
One of the reasons why Kitchen has been so comfortable with the U-20's this past year is in large part due to the coaching philosophy of U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen. It is Rongen's Dutch style that is similar to the way Kitchen has played in college at the University of Akron.
"Compared to Akron, it's actually kind of similar," Kitchen described. "Just playing in the game against Canada a few weeks ago, we wanted to high-press them and not let them play. We wanted to be on the ball. That's exactly how Akron does it. I would say it's kind of a dominate soccer. It is how the Dutch like to play. A 4-3-3 [formation] and they like to be on the ball. They like to attack."
While the coaching and team styles are similar at Akron and the U-20s, Kitchen's role between the two teams are different.
With the U-20s, Kitchen plays central defender but for Akron he plays as a defensive midfielder. While his versatility is a strength, he does hope to settle in at one position as his professional career gets underway.
"I would like to stay in one position," Kitchen pointed out. "But obviously if the game calls for me to change then I will use my versatility. I actually think I am a better central midfielder. Wherever is best for the team is where I am going to play."
2010 was indeed a terrific year for Kitchen that has proven to be a springboard into his first professional season. The highlight was winning the NCAA title with Akron in just his freshman season which gave him a feeling that he will carry with him the rest of his career.
"It was an amazing feeling," Kitchen said proudly. "Our Akron team worked unbelievably hard and we wanted nothing more than to bring that championship home to the city. That was Akron's first ever national title. We had the city and all of northeastern Ohio behind us."
The highlight for Kitchen came in the national semifinals against an upstart Michigan team. With Akron trailing 1-0 late in the first half, Kitchen scored one of the goals of the season when he unleashed a perfect hard driving shot from 35 yards into the top left corner of the net for an equalizer. Akron would go on to win 2-1.
"I felt pressure and I just started going forward. Next thing I know I take a touch wide, I think I looked up and I am about 35 [yards] out, I just kicked it. I honestly didn't think it would be anything. But it paid off and I scored. For sure it was one of the best I've scored - especially since it was on one of the highest stages."
As a top professional prospect, Kitchen attributes his high standing in large part to the University of Akron head coach Caleb Porter whose teams are playing a more attractive and more skillful style of soccer than most observers feel has ever been played in NCAA soccer.
"Playing for Akron, we want the fans to be able to enjoy the game," Kitchen said. "We want it to be attractive. It's not always like that, don't get me wrong. But that's what we want to accomplish. Caleb has done an unbelievable job in that. He's one of the greatest coaches I've ever had."
"He's very intense," he continued. "We never take a light day in practice. If you watch Akron play and then watch the average soccer game, we are on the ball and we have fun. I don't think there is another coach that has brought in the style that Caleb has."
Kitchen will now hope join a growing list of players that has come out of Akron only to immediately fit into professional and international soccer. The list includes Sporting Kansas City's Teal Bunbury who is now part of the US national team and Seattle Sounder Steve Zakuani who is on the national team for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This year Kitchen is not alone as four other players will also leave Akron early to turn professional and all are expected to be drafted within the top ten picks. When Kitchen and his teammates announced their intention to leave, they found encouragement from Porter who met with each of the players.
"Look, he is in it for the players. He's not in it for himself," Kitchen stated frankly. "He's encouraged five underclassmen to go pro. He wants us to do what is best for us. He'll look at our options at the end of the season like he did for me and all the other guys. He told me this was a really good opportunity for my future. He said I did some great things for the school but that it was time to move on.
"He's never going to hold any player back if they are ready," he added. "But if they're not ready, he'll say that they may need to come back another year. He wants what's best for the players and that's really important."
Kitchen is currently with the US U-20 national team camp in Ft. Lauderdale. Following that, he will attend the MLS Combine along with other top potential draft picks. His busy January will reach its peak on January 13th in Baltimore with the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.