In this annual series — which I maintain is correctly known as “Cake or Death,” but I digress — we’re often forced to pose questions about whether we fans would like D.C. United to keep a player who has already left the club. Generally, in those cases, the player has moved on to another team, even another league. What’s rarer is a situation where strict adherence to our conceit has us ask whether we’d like to see the return of a player who was forced into retirement by injuries.
But that’s where we are today, as it’s Taylor Kemp’s turn under the season review microscope. The Colorado native saw his 2017 season ended early but entered last offseason as United’s presumptive starter with 86% of B&RU readers wanting to see him back. Of course, the injuries lingered and Kemp didn’t see the field in 2018, so we’ll treat this as more of a retrospective on his career with the Black-and-Red.
The left back came to D.C. United from the University of Maryland as a late first-round selection in the 2013 SuperDraft. After splitting time between United and the USL Richmond Kickers his first season and a half, Shooter — as his teammates had taken to calling him for his propensity to let fly in training — secured the full-time starting gig in the second half of 2013.
He wouldn’t give up that starting spot until his last professional game. After being sidelined by a groin injury in August 2017, Kemp would undergo multiple surgeries for hernia and groin issues. He announced his retirement last month.
Looking at his play on the field, Kemp was a player who each year found a way to improve his game. Earning a reputation as an attacking fullback in college, there were questions about his ability to defend at the MLS level, which lingered after his first season. He put those to bed with improved (though still imperfect) positioning and 1v1 defending, becoming for stretches los Capitalinos’ most reliable defender.
He improved his crossing and shooting over time and — seemingly out of nowhere — developed the confidence and ability to dribble players in the open field.
Which brings us to the video portion of this look back. First up: a dribble-run-and-score against Philadelphia in 2016.
Next, a screamer from that wild 6-4 2015 win over RSL. It happened directly in front of my seats at RFK, and that broke me. I literally entered a brief dissociative state in reaction to this.
We’ll close with what I believe is the last ever MLS playoff goal scored at RFK Stadium. It was small consolation in a surprising rout, but it was also a goal worth remembering. (Incidentally, I love these kinds of goals, but I’d prefer that United stop bowing out of the playoffs when they score them.)
United initially struggled in Kemp’s absence. In one of the most acute displays of the shallow pool of MLS left backs, Ben Olsen was forced to move longtime D.C. players and new acquisitions out of position to man that left corner. The position remained unsettled for essentially a full year after Kemp’s injury, when Joseph Mora came into his own during the second half of 2018.
It’s easy to imagine United grabbing a few more points, especially during that epic early-season road trip, had Kemp been able to play. The season ultimately turned out pretty well overall for United, even as the former-Terp had to step away from the game.
We’ll end this post wishing Taylor all the best in whatever comes next and by asking an even more hypothetical than usual version of the question you knew was coming: We know he’s hung up the ol’ Predators, but putting that and the injuries aside, would you want to see Shooter return to D.C. United?
Do you want Taylor Kemp back for the 2019 season?
This poll is closed