PERRY KITCHEN spent the recent international break in Cuba, of all places, with the United States national team. The two countries played their first friendly on Cuban soil since 1947 and the Hearts captain admitted it was like entering a time machine.
Kitchen was an unused substitute in USA’s 2-0 win at the Estadio Pedro Marrero in Havana, but the whole experience took him aback. He has travelled to some of world football’s more remote outposts with his country, however the northern Caribbean dictatorship was something else entirely.
“We played Cuba which was an interesting experience down there. Then we played New Zealand at home, when I got 65 or 70 minutes,” explained Kitchen.
“We were made very welcome in Cuba. The Cuban people are great. It’s interesting to see how a political regime can have that effect on a people. But it was positive, nonetheless.
“We were aware of how historic it was. It was very interesting, some things I’d never seen before. It was like being in a time machine, with all the old cars, the older buildings, things like that.”
Kitchen admitted the repressed lifestyle in Cuba made him appreciate what he has in his own life. That said, he would happily revisit the island in the future.
“It is one off the bucket list and, yeah, I think I’d go back. The beaches are incredible. The people, well, it’s something to see – but it’s sad, the situation that the people have been put in, without their will.
“It does make you appreciate what you have, for sure. It’s cool to see but it’s sad that it has happened at the experience of people’s lives down there.”
Jurgen Klinsmann, the USA coach, handed Kitchen his first international start on home soil five days later in Washington DC. He played in his favoured central midfield role in the 1-1 draw with New Zealand.
“It was my first start in the States, which was nice. I played 65 or 70 minutes and thought I was solid, although that’s up to Jurgen to decide,” said the 24-year-old.
“We’ve got two huge qualifiers coming up, at home to Mexico and away to Costa Rica, two of our biggest ones. I’m just hoping to get the call for those.”
Klinsmann’s preference that his players play in Europe certainly helps Kitchen’s case. Being named club captain at Tynecastle last month can only further enhance his claim at international level.
“Yeah, sure. We didn’t have a direct conversation about that but I’m sure he’s happy about that. It can only help my case.”
Of more immediate concern to Kitchen are Hearts’ fortunes this weekend as they attempt to recover from a disappointing midweek loss at Kilmarnock. The captain knows he must rally the troops away at Inverness this afternoon.
“As a captain, after tough results, you have some responsibility to make sure the guys are ready for the next game,” he acknowledged. “It’s never easy after a loss. I think we learned from the game and it’s a positive that we have a quick turnaround to put it behind us.
“I think we learned that it doesn’t matter who you are playing in this league – if you don’t show up and you’re not on your game, you’re going to lose. We have to better in all aspects of the game. It’s behind us now.”
Intense scrutiny from fans is something Kitchen has had to adapt to since joining Hearts from the MLS club DC United in February. “As a player, it’s not really in your best interests to look into that. You have to stay focused and have the right mentality, not really worry about the outside noise.
“I wouldn’t say anything has been a culture shock, but the passion here amongst the fans is certainly at a different level to what I’m used to. It’s an honour to play for these fans.”