D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen's evolution as a player continued last night in Texas, as he played the final 27 minutes of a 2-0 victory for the United States over archrival Mexico. Coming off of what was easily his best game in 2015 - one of the best games he's played as a professional - last weekend, Kitchen replaced Kyle Beckerman at the bottom of the USMNT's midfield diamond in the 63rd minute.
His United teammate Bill Hamid was strangely not eligible for the match, as Jurgen Klinsmann opted to carry Club Leon goalkeeper William Yarbrough as his backup on the night. Hamid did spend the second half on the bench in uniform, indicating that he may have done some work with the coaching staff at halftime. Well, that, or he just opted to change out of the US Soccer polo shirt the cameras spotted him wearing early on.
The circumstances for Kitchen's entry into the game were not ideal. Beckerman pulled up while chasing Erick "Cubo" Torres, and the US trainer that attended to him appeared to be examining his kneecap. US Soccer later said that Beckerman had only sustained a "thigh contusion," which is a bit odd given that he was later seen with ice on his knee. Then again, we're not doctors; maybe one can get a contusion - read: heavy bruise - without contact?
In any case Kitchen entered as a direct replacement for the Real Salt Lake veteran, playing underneath Michael Bradley in central midfield. He couldn't have received much useful tactical information before coming in, either, as Mexico had switched from a 352 to a 442 in between the time Beckerman was injured and when Kitchen entered the fray. Complicating the task further, Mexico went from playing two holding midfielders - much like United does - to a diamond within five minutes of Kitchen's entry into the match. That meant Kitchen was seeing plenty of both Luis Montes - a player in contention for a call-up for the full El Tri squad - and Cubo Torres dropping off the front line.
Kitchen's first real involvement came in the 69th minute, where his pressure forced Mario Osuna into a bad first touch that was quickly taken by Gyasi Zardes near midfield. Zardes virtually immediately gave the ball back, however, and with Kitchen still in a spot to receive a back pass Mexico ended up quickly feeding Montes into a central position. Montes ended up rolling a shot from over 20 yards wide after Ventura Alvarado stepped up into the void to press the ball.
In the 73rd minute, Kitchen showed his awareness. Away from the ball, he was tracking the run of Montes, who eventually moved far enough wide that Kitchen turned to tell left back Brek Shea to take over following the Leon playmaker. Shea, however, immediately shot out wide to cover a pass that wasn't coming and handed Montes back to Kitchen. Kitchen nearly slipped trying to change direction, but between his tracking back and the alertness of Alvarado, Montes was pressured just enough to shoot wide again from outside the box.
Kitchen also showed a knowledge of some of soccer's "dark arts" in the 77th minute. Montes had played the ball backwards and then took one step towards the right before sprinting hard back towards the middle and across Kitchen's body. With the referee looking at the ball instead, Kitchen reached out and grabbed a strong handful of Mexico's current, ugly away shirt. Despite the fact that Montes was on the run, and despite his attempt to shove Kitchen away with both hands, Kitchen stopped Montes from getting into what would have been a dangerous position to receive a pass. Montes was clearly upset, but didn't even get a glance from the ref.
Less than two minutes later, Kitchen would get the better of Montes again. This time, following a US corner kick that was glanced on by either Zardes or Omar Gonzalez only to be cleared off the line, Mexico threatened to counter. Kitchen, however, won the physical battle with Montes for the bouncing ball without fouling, thus preventing Montes from laying the ball off for an advancing teammate. It would be the last action for Montes, who was withdrawn for Antonio Rios of Deportivo Toluca. The move would see Mexico move back to having two holding midfielders, with Rios settling in alongside Queretaro's Osuna.
When we last saw Kitchen, he was scoring two goals against the New York Red Bulls. He showed some of what made that happen in the 80th minute, immediately after the Montes substitution. Bradley was on the ball near the right touchline following a throw-in, and his shifting of angles appeared to confuse the pressing Rios, who slipped. Kitchen saw the space that resulted from that and from Torres focusing on denying a pass to Alvarado, and took off.
Bradley spotted the run, and suddenly Kitchen was on the ball with numbers to support him within 25 yards of goal. Kitchen played the ball to his right for Mix Diskerud, who one-timed the ball back into Kitchen's path. With Mexico expecting a low cross into the six, their deep retreat left Kitchen with room from 14 yards out. Kitchen didn't make perfect contact with the ball, but it was still headed to goal only to be blocked by Julio Dominguez, who may have ended up saving a goal judging from the awkward, slow reaction from goalkeeper Cirilio Saucedo. Kitchen was seen on camera moments later shaking his head in disappointment, as it's a chance he likely expected to put away.
Kitchen's next involvement was more simple, as he easily won an 82nd minute header over Luis Rodriguez as Mexico was being forced into simple long balls out of the back. He beat Rodriguez again in the 84th minute, this time chest-bumping him aside to win possession back for the US. Bradley pushed the ball forward to Zardes with his first touch, who in turn dropped it off for Kitchen and sprinted forward into space in the left channel. Kitchen made the right read on the play in one-timing a ball into the space Zardes was attacking, but the pass was a bit too strong and Dominguez ended up intercepting it.
In stoppage time Kitchen stood strong to prevent Rodriguez from completing an attempted one-two with Carlos Esquivel near the edge of the US box, eventually winning a free kick. There may or may not have been a slight fist-pump in the direction of Brad Evans in the moments that followed. That was the final real involvement for PK23, as full time arrived about a minute later.
United fans will be relieved to hear that Kitchen didn't come off of a very bad temporary grass surface with any signs of injury. He and Hamid should be back in DC to continue prep for the Houston Dynamo later today, and given that he played less than 30 minutes it seems likely that Kitchen will not miss any time on the weekend.