It’s hard to believe Perry Kitchen wasn’t even in Europe for two whole years. The American midfielder’s time abroad had enough ups and downs to pack a career squeezed into a period comprised of just about 21 months.
Those 21 months saw Kitchen break through in Scotland before being named captain just months after joining Hearts. They saw him lose his spot soon after, prompting a step to Denmark. It was a time filled with a number of seemingly quick-fire decisions, all of which seemed to be make or break.
When it came time for Kitchen to make his decision on what to do with his future, he was somewhat blindsided once again. The plan was to stay in Europe, but that plan changed at a moment’s notice when the right situation and the right club jumped into the picture.
The former D.C. United midfielder joined the LA Galaxy this winter, becoming a vital part of the club’s rebuilding effort following the team’s worst ever season. While the club looks to rebuild its image, Kitchen is also looking to return to some measure of consistency as he joins a club that feels like an ideal fit for a player who’s European experience was unlike anything he could have expected.
“It certainly was not something I was planning on doing this soon, in terms of coming back to the states,” Kitchen told SBI. “However, when a team like the Galaxy is after you, it’s tough to say no. That’s the situation I was put in. It was a great chance to get back to a big club like the Galaxy.
“It was just too good to pass up.”
The process of coming to LA came “out of nowhere”, Kitchen said. He wasn’t pursuing an MLS move at all and, even when the Galaxy expressed interest, he had his initial doubts. You never know with the MLS rules and regulations. You never know if a club can work the loophole to bring you in.
The Galaxy did just that and, even as the process continued, Kitchen says he had his doubts. He was certainly interested, and that interest was spurred on by his conversations with players that had been a part of the club. As each checkpoint passed and the move looked more and more possible, it seemed like the right decision for him.
It was a choice that Kitchen found both difficult and easy in equal measure. It was hard to leave Europe behind after less than two seasons. He’d just begun adapting to a different style, a different mentality and an entirely different mindset, one that had been challenged several times over the past two years.
It started with his move to Hearts, and his subsequent elevation to captain just several months later. But, just as it looked like Kitchen had established himself as a key piece of the club for years to come, the club replaced manager Robbie Neilson with Ian Cathro, whose opinion of Kitchen wasn’t as strong.
Playing time dried up under the new manager, prompting a move to Denmark. His subsequent time with Randers was relatively successful as Kitchen made 17 appearances over a six-month period.
“I experienced a lot in that 18 months,” Kitchen said. “At the end of the day, a coaching change changed it for me. That’s the way it goes sometimes. It can be a cruel part of the business…The way that it ended, after being captain eight or nine months earlier, it went very fast, but I had a good run.
“Experiencing new things, new styles, new tactics has helped my game all around. I’m just trying to grow and get better every day. I can’t say I’ve mastered any one thing, but I’m trying to just be the best player I can be.”
Kitchen is seemingly in a perfect position to do that with the Galaxy. Within the current team, he slots right into that No. 6 role where he will play alongside Jonathan dos Santos. Kitchen’s job is to give dos Santos room to run while helping cycle the ball to stars like Giovani dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini.
Looking at the midfield, Kitchen says his job is to just play simple, breaking up plays while keeping things moving for Sigi Schmid’s new-look Galaxy.
“He definitely adds to the group because of his positional play and where he plays,” Schmid told SBI. “He’s comfortable as the No. 6. He also adds because he’s the kind of player that’s willing to talk and get things organized. As he becomes more and more comfortable within the group, I think that aspect of his game will become more prominent.
“I think a lot of times, people underrate his passing ability and technical ability because they view him, sometimes, as a destroyer. I think he’s more than that.”
If Kitchen can be everything Schmid expects him to be, the Galaxy will see their fortunes return to where the club feels it should be. Historically, the Galaxy have never been as bad as they were in 2017, and change was needed.
Kitchen is one of the players charged with leading that change. He’s a player that wants to help push the club back to where it once was while also returning to some level of normalcy himself.
Could that normalcy result in a return to the U.S. Men’s National Team? Maybe. Kitchen has made five appearances for the USMNT but none since 2016. Admittedly, Kitchen says its something that’s in the back of his mind as a new cycle begins but, given his current situation, he knows he has to take care of business on the club side before any of that chatter begins.
That process starts Saturday as the Galaxy host the Portland Timbers to kickstart the MLS season. For Kitchen, it’s a return to the league that seemed unlikely just several months ago, but it’s one that he’s looking forward to following a rollercoaster ride abroad.
“I see a ton of talent, a great setup with the training grounds here,” Kitchen said. “It’s all first class here. You throw in a good staff and a very good squad as well. As a player, this is everything that you could want.”