10416_isi_kitchenperry_2usmntjd05241620 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
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Promoted to Captain, Perry Kitchen Builds His Resume

The 24-year-old Indiana native took a leap of faith when he left the comfort of Major League Soccer to pursue a career in Europe. His gamble worked, and Kitchen is thriving in soccer-mad Scotland.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 04, 2016
5:00 PM

WHEN PERRY KITCHEN left D.C. United earlier this year to travel across the Atlantic to ply his trade in Europe, he did so without a club. Following his participation in the U.S. men's national team camp in January, Kitchen had interest from various teams but his future was uncertain.

Seven months later, the Indianapolis native is one of the few American players to ever be named captain of a European team.

Kitchen, 24, was informed earlier this month by Hearts of Midlothian head coach Robbie Neilson that he would be the team’s captain for the 2016-17 season despite only joining the Edinburgh-based club in March. He takes over for Alim Ozturk who served as captain last season.

“Robbie approached me a couple of weeks ago,” Kitchen told American Soccer Now from Scotland. “He told me about his decision and what he wanted to do. I said I would be honored. It's obviously a huge deal. It's definitely been a smooth transition. Since Day One, the club has been very welcoming—the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary. I am just doing what I know how to do.”

The armband has raised his profile in the Scottish capital. And Hearts is not shy about touting its new-found “Captain America.”

“Walking around town, you can certainly be noticed,” Kitchen says with a chuckle. “But yeah, it does take some getting used to.”

Kitchen joins an esteeemed club of European-based Captain Americas. Claudio Reyna was the first American to captain a club when he was given the armband Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.In a similar fashion to Kitchen, Clarence Goodson was named the captain of Brondby in 2011 just six months after joining the Danish club. Brian McBride was an incredibly popular captain at Fulham, and Craven Cottage still houses a bar named after him. Steve Cherundolo remains one of the best examples after rising to the captaincy in his career at Hannover.

Frank Simek was given the honors at Carlisle United. Gregg Berhalter was actually the captain for two European clubs at 1860 Munich and Energie Cottbus. And Joe Enochs was the captain at Osnabruck, where he was one of the club’s most popular players and is currently head coach.

Now, Kitchen adds his name to that list and Nielson explained why he decided to give the honor to the newcomer.

“He’s a natural and leads by example both on and off the park,” the coach said. “He’s also a really good player and will inspire those around him to reach the highest standards...It’s now Perry’s time to take over that responsibility and I’ve absolutely no doubt that he will flourish in the role of Hearts captain."

The news, while surprising to club supporters, was met with approval.

Club legend John Robertson, the all-time leading scorer at Hearts and still enormously popular, recently praised the decision. He believes Kitchen is the right player to be captain and he even cited the American's keen interest in the history of the club sice his arrival.

“Perry is everything you would want in a captain," Robertson said. "He’s strong, determined, hard-working in the middle of the park, leads by example, has a great attitude and speaks very well. He gets Hearts, he knows what the club is all about, he knows what the fans mean. History is there to be made and Perry could lead us into a bright new future. There’s not an ex-captain or ex-player at this club that doesn’t want to see Perry Kitchen lifting trophies above his head."

“Taking an American word, he seems pretty 'cool' about it," Robertson added. "He realizes it’s a huge honor and he sees it as a badge of honor. He’s not a guy that’s going to swan around the changing room and say, ‘I’m the captain’. He’s a guy who has earned the right by pure hard work and sweating blood...Perry is one of these guys who loves everything about the club, he embraces what we’re about and on the pitch he’s a warrior. The Hearts fans love him—they love his attitude, they love his no-nonsense style."

So far in his time at Hearts, Kitchen has consistently been one of the team’s best players on the field.

“It's a different league but saying that, there are a lot of similarities,” Kitchen explained. “It's a tough league to play in, like MLS. It's definitely how I thought it would be. It's a face-paced league and you don't get a lot of time on the ball. The teams are tough to beat and they're not going to give up.

"I am just enjoying it and taking it one game at a time.”

Kitchen's top priority this year is to get the team back to European play, where it faltered against a team from Malta in the early qualifying rounds this year. Kitchen took part in the scoreless draw on the road in the first leg but was injured for the 2-1 loss at home in the return leg.

That loss served as yet another setback for Scottish teams in European play. Aberdeen was also eliminated early in Europa qualifying at the hands of Slovenia’s Maribor and while Celtic advanced to the group stages of the Champions League, it still dropped an away leg in qualifying to the Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar.

That said, Scottish soccer has been bolstered by Glasgow Rangers' return to the Scottish Premier League after it spent five years in the lower tiers after suffering a financial scandal in 2011. That added prestige should only benefit the league and its status in Europe. 

“You always want to have the top teams in the top league,” Kitchen said. “It makes for a better league. As a player, you want to play in those type of matches against big teams. Saying that, we're not here harping or paying attention to what other people are thinking. We're going to go out and give the season our best and finish better than we did last year.”

Kitchen is now in Florida with the U.S. national team ahead of its friendly on Friday against Cuba. With Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones both absent on the roster, it's an important moment for Kitchen to prove to Jurgen Klinsmann that he can take over in central midfield. Kitchen made the roster for this summer’s Copa America tournament but he did not see the field.

Klinsmann wants his players to be leaders on their clubs and Kitchen recognizes that wearing the armband "certainly can't hurt my case."

Should Kitchen fare well in October, a much bigger test awaits in November when the United States opens the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying against arch-rivals Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, followed by a trip to Costa Rica—where it has never won. While Kitchen has yet to play in a game of that magnitude for the U.S., he is hoping to make that transition.

“As a player, you really want to be in those tough situations and playing against very good teams,” Kitchen said. “Those are the games you live to play for. Obviously, qualifying for a major tournament is never easy. We just have to have the right mentality about it and enjoy the opportunity.”

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