MLS draft 2011: D.C. United stresses defense, selecting Akron's Perry Kitchen with No. 3 pick

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2011; 12:29 AM

BALTIMORE - By selecting Perry Kitchen with the No. 3 pick in the MLS draft Thursday, and subsequently adding teammate Chris Korb from NCAA champion Akron in the second round, D.C. United addressed conspicuous defensive and leadership issues.

Now, with the opening of training camp a week away and the season opener in two months, United will have to attend to its most glaring deficiency: scoring.

Club officials considered selecting an attacking player with its highest selection in seven years. But after the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers claimed U.S. under-20 national team striker Omar Salgado and Akron midfielder-forward Darlington Nagbe, respectively, "you can't pass up a Perry Kitchen," United General Manager Dave Kasper said.

"Could we have taken a forward? Absolutely, but [Kitchen] just has things a lot of players his age, and even older, don't have - leadership qualities, focus, and just a big-time winner."

Kitchen, 18, entered the draft after one season at Akron, which was responsible for five of the first eight players selected. He was projected to go in the first two picks, but late Wednesday, after club delegations arrived in Baltimore from the scouting combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., word began to circulate that he'd fallen to United.

While others, most notably Nagbe, are more dynamic, Kitchen is regarded as the most prepared to play professionally right away.

"If I had had the number one pick," United Coach Ben Olsen said, "I would have taken him. I can't tell you how happy we are to have this kid."

Undoubtedly, Olsen saw a little bit of himself in Kitchen, a tenacious ball-winner and organizer. Akron Coach Caleb Porter called Kitchen "a high-end role player, and in a soccer team, you have got to have those guys who do the dirty work. The intangibles are what make him so special. I see him being the captain someday."

First and foremost, United sees him as central defender, the position he has played for the U.S. under-20 national team, to partner with returning starter Dejan Jakovic. At Akron, he was a defensive midfielder, which, Porter said, enhanced his ball skills and decision-making.

"I'm a leader, I like to organize guys," said Kitchen, a native of Indianapolis. His favorite player is Manchester United central back Nemanja Vidic because he is "a hard-nosed leader who wins the ball - I love that."

Korb, a senior selected No. 31 overall, is an outside back who started on the left side for Akron. In the third round, United took Joe Willis, a 6-foot-5 senior goalkeeper from the University of Denver who will compete with two preseason invitees for the third slot on the depth chart.

"Our defense right now is where it's going to be," Olsen said. "We can focus on some other areas now. We're looking for that piece that we still need up top."

United has been shopping abroad to strengthen an attack that set the MLS record last season for fewest goals (21 in 30 games). D.C.'s 6-20-4 record was its worst in 15 seasons.

"It could be a week, it could be a month, it could extend beyond that," said Kasper, who cautioned that, if the club can't find the right fit at forward, D.C. might wait until the summer international transfer window. In the interim, it would consider acquiring a foreign forward on a six-month loan with an option to sign.

United has added two free agent forwards, Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya, but still lacks a bona fide scorer. Kasper said there has been "some communication" with Jerry Palacios, a forward for the Honduran World Cup team, but he is likely to sign elsewhere.

MLS notes: Goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who left Maryland after three seasons, was chosen No. 5 overall by the Philadelphia Union. Terrapins midfielder Billy Cortes (New York) and forward Jason Herrick (Chicago) went in the third round. . . .

With the No. 10 pick, Kansas City claimed James Madison forward C.J. Sapong (Forest Park). UMBC forward Levi Houapeu (Watkins Mill) went to Philadelphia in the third round. . . .

John Rooney, younger brother of Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney, was taken by New York in the second round. . . . Virginia goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, who was not invited to the MLS combine, agreed to terms with Colombia's America de Cali. . . .

Commissioner Don Garber reiterated the need for D.C. United to find a solution to its stadium issues, saying: "We've been saying that for years, and at some point, they are going to reach the breaking point. I am not saying that is happening tomorrow, but it will happen at some point. We've got to work hard to find an alternative to what there is now."

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