Back in September, D.C. United had to play the Montreal Impact on the road without Perry Kitchen. In previewing that game, I discovered a fact that sums up Kitchen's importance to the cause: Since picking Kitchen in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, United entered that match 0W-4D-7L in league games that their rock-solid defensive midfielder didn't take part. Montreal won that won 2-0, by the way, meaning that United has 4 points from a possible 36 (and a goal difference of -16) in games Kitchen missed.
Those numbers obviously indicate that Kitchen is a fundamental piece of the puzzle at RFK Stadium. They also point to his durability: Kitchen has been available for 158 of United's last 170 league matches. That's despite playing a physically demanding position, and one in which picking up tactical yellow cards is sometimes part of the job. That's the kind of durability that you nearly never see in a league that requires long road trips, games on questionable surfaces, and (if your team is playing in the CCL or Open Cup) a slew of mid-week matches. Kitchen, like The Tick, is nigh-invulnerable.
Kitchen's statistical success this season was slightly reduced. His 3 goals and 1 assist were both regressions after 2014's 5 goals/4 assists outburst. There were also times that he didn't appear entirely comfortable playing alongside Markus Halsti, though admittedly that can only be blamed so much on him. After all, better scouting would have discovered that Halsti likes to do a lot of the things Kitchen already does; he ended up being more like the player he was intended to partner than was good for United or either player.
However, Kitchen finished the season with the 10th best passing percentage (86.1%) of any central midfielder in the league, and 7th among those who started more than half their team's games. Given the context that he played in - that is, a team far more concerned with results and safety than possession, and one that usually loses the numbers battle in midfield - that's an admirable total. United builds most of what they do going forward around Kitchen's ability to receive the ball and move it along to his teammates.
It's hard to believe Kitchen is still only 23 years old; how many players in their fifth season are still eligible for consideration in MLS's 24 Under 24? Kitchen finished 8th in an informal competition that involves significant input from coaches, GMs, and scouts from around the league. That's a strong indicator that he's the sort of player any team in MLS would like to have. He's also gotten attention from the USMNT, getting his second cap in a 2-0 win over Mexico back in April and being named to the Gold Cup provisional roster this summer.
The downside of all of this good stuff is that "Legendary Perry" has drawn interest from abroad. We discussed rumored interest from Lazio last month, and before that there were rumors of clubs in Germany as well as Champions League sides from Belgium and Denmark sniffing around. Kitchen has previously spent a week training with SC Freiburg as well, though their interest might not be as strong due to their relegation last season.
Kitchen is currently out of contract with United, and while talks are ongoing we've heard the same refrain - that the sides are far apart - from the Washington Post's Steve Goff for weeks now. It's the kind of situation that comes up in MLS from time to time: Kitchen has USMNT ambitions and interest in playing in Europe, and he can also make a lot of money even if he ends up in the Jupiler League or the Superliga rather than playing for some big-time German club. MLS's salary cap makes it very difficult for United to match the salary Kitchen would get elsewhere. In all likelihood, United will have to make Kitchen a Designated Player (or at least pay him a DP salary and then pay it down with allocation money).
And maybe that's a good point to end with. We're asking you to vote on whether Kitchen should stay or go, but when voting keep in mind that retaining Kitchen means a more restrictive salary cap for the rest of the roster.