Tuesday, January 18, 2010 5:17 PM
D.C. United Page D.C. United Video
By Sebastian SalazarCSNwashington.com
There's nothing more important to a coach than trust. And simply put, Thomas Rongen trusts Perry Kitchen.
"I need him at the back," said Rongen, for whom Kitchen serves as captain on the United States under-20 national team. "He has an incredible winners mentality that just seeps out of his pores both on and off the field, which is very contagious. With our team for instance, people just follow him."
Is it realistic to think that a group of grown men will follow an 18-year-old?
"I said to D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen 'he'll be your captain in a year, there's no doubt in my mind,'" Rongen said, recounting a pre-draft conversation with Olsen. "He'll be very good in the locker room because he has a hard edge to him, which I think D.C. hasn't had for a while. He's also very hard on the field, which again, I think D.C. has lacked a bit on the defensive end."
The defensive end is where most people think Kitchen will end up. Though he plays central back for the U-20's, Kitchen did play in a holding midfield role for NCAA-champion Akron this past year. Playing in midfield for the Zips gave Kitchen invaluable experience both on the ball and receiving the ball with his back to goal, but Rongen still sees United's top prospect as a defender first.
"I think if you compare both positions, I still think he's a better central defender," said Rongen. "That doesn't mean he can't play as a holding midfielder, I think he's comfortable there as well."
Whether in midfield or defense, Kitchen's communication skills may mark the biggest difference for United this season. Of United's 11 opening day starters from a year ago, five are no longer on the roster and aside from Andy Najar, the remaining six are far from guaranteed a starting spot come March 19. Bottom-line, there are going to be a lot of new faces in a lot of new spots for United this spring and someone, even if it is an 18-year-old, is going to have to organize it all.
"He's a very good communicator both on and off the field," said Rongen, who recently called Kitchen in as part of a U-20 national team training camp in Florida. "He reaches not only the people next to him like a fullback or goalkeeper, but he has capabilities to pull a whole team together. Our forwards listen to him when we need them to drop back. He becomes an extension of the coaching staff."
Rongen's heady praise for Kitchen should make United fans feel pretty good about D.C.'s top pick, that is, as long as he stays here. As with any highly touted prospect, the fear of a departure for Europe could put a hitch in United's future plans revolving Kitchen.
"I'm sure that's the desire of every player, but I think this is a great start for him," Rongen said of Kitchen, who he compared to Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit in terms of European potential. "I think this is a very good platform. European teams are looking at the United States, and transfer fees are still fairly reasonable with attacking players there's always interest, but as a central back you have to prove yourself for maybe a longer period of time for European teams to come knocking."