The Columbus Crew’s offseason changes continued on Thursday when the Black & Gold announced the free agent signing of midfielder Perry Kitchen. Unlike the additions of forward Bradley Wright-Phillips just before Christmas or winger Kevin Molino just after the New Year, the signing of Kitchen didn’t garner the same kind of excitement among the supporters or receive the acclaim nationally as some of the Crew’s other recent moves. But perhaps it should.
First, it makes sense that Wright-Phillips and Molino received more attention. The former New York Red Bulls and LAFC striker has scored 17 or more goals in five of his seven full seasons in Major League Soccer and Molino is a threat to push for 10 goals and 10 assists in any year he remains healthy, something few players can boast. These players, with these statistics, are exciting signings and will provide a boost in a second straight MLS Cup run, but Kitchen could be equally as important in the role the Black & Gold see him filling.
The 2021 season, as has been discussed many times, is going to be very different than last year. While the match congestion due to the multi-month COVID-19 delay took its toll on teams across the league, the U.S. Open Cup will return this summer adding games to the slate. Because the Crew won the MLS Cup, the Black Black & Gold will also take part in the CONCACAF Champions League starting in April. As both head coach Caleb Porter and president and general manager Tim Bezbatcheno have made clear, Columbus wants to make runs and try to win all of these competitions.
Wright-Phillips adds a quality backup striker behind three-time leading scorer Gyasi Zardes and Molino gives the team a dynamic midfielder in a group that already was among the scariest in MLS, providing the possibility of rotation without much of a falloff. Kitchen will do the same.
Last year, the Crew acquired Fatai Alashe from FC Cincinnati midseason to help provide depth at central midfield. Alashe played in eight games, six starts, but only featured once in the final six regular season contests and wasn’t involved in the Black & Gold’s postseason run. Alashe’s contract was not renewed this offseason.
The thought was that Aidan Morris or Sebastian Berhalter would step into Alashe’s vacated role. As rookies in 2020, these two central midfielders combined for 19 appearances — 10 games, two starts for Morris and nine games, four starts for Berhalter with Morris also starting in the MLS Cup Final for the unavailable Darlington Nagbe.
News of the Kitchen signing was met with backlash on social media by fans who believed it indicated that Morris and Berhalter would not get the requisite time to continue their development. Massive Report can confirm that this is not the case and the Crew is very excited about the future of both players with the club. Sources tell Massive Report that both Morris and Berhalter will see more than their combined 755 minutes in 2020, even if that means one of the young central midfielders goes on loan to continue his development.
Given that Nagbe and Artur are entrenched as the Black & Gold’s central midfielder starting pair, Kitchen is viewed by the staff as a secondary option. When Columbus has to rotate, be that in MLS, the Open Cup or the Champions League, Kitchen can step into one central midfield role and provide a veteran presence next to either Morris or Berhalter. Given that the Crew is trying to win in all three competitions, playing two players at the heart of its midfield that are both set to enter only their second season as a professional and were in high school just over two years ago isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. Kitchen adds the experience to the midfield to help bring along a young player in important games.
As for Kitchen, he is a proven MLS veteran with over 218 regular season games for both D.C. United and the LA Galaxy, as well as two seasons in Europe. While he is much more of a No. 6, a holding midfielder, than the double pivot the Black & Gold used last year, he is familiar with Porter’s system and staff, helping the Crew manager win the national championship in 2010 at Akron, alongside Nagbe.
Kitchen will give the Columbus midfield a bit more bite as well, as a player who is not afraid to commit fouls when necessary, finishing eighth in the league in that department in 2020.
While the Black & Gold midfield’s future is bright with Morris and Berhalter, the Crew is looking to win now and win in all three competitions this season. Kitchen provides a veteran option in the short-term — that sources confirmed to Massive Report came at a team-friendly price — to hopefully help Columbus bring home more championships while also helping to bring along the young players that will be the future of the Crew’s midfield.