BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hearts star Perry Kitchen could be absent for the start of the Jambos’ Europa League campaign after he was called up to the USA squad for the upcoming Copa America.
The 24-year-old, who joined the capital club in March following his departure from D.C United, was named in Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster for the tournament alongside the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and former Rangers midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.
The Copa America ‘Centenario’, which celebrates 100 years of South America’s most prestigious international competition, is taking place in the US and begins on June 4 when Klinsmann’s side faces Colombia.
Hearts, meanwhile, are due to report back for pre-season training on June 15 and play their first Europa League fixture 15 days later. With the staff keen for Kitchen to benefit from a belated break, it is understood head coach Robbie Neilson expects to be without the combative midfielder for the first qualifying round.
While acknowledging he faces a hectic schedule and a curtailed summer, Kitchen insists he is honoured to be part of a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.
“It’s a quick turnaround but to play in a competition like that is definitely worth it,” the three-times capped midfielder told Soccer America.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in this tournament because normally we’re not a part of it and this one is being played in the United States. The guys will cherish it and remember it forever.”
Kitchen’s absence for the start of Hearts’ continental campaign would be a blow, given the impact he made in the latter part of the Premiership season, making 10 appearances and immediately cementing a first-team place.
However, a delighted Neilson believes Kitchen’s selection illustrates the standard of player the Jambos are targeting as they build for next season.
“I’m delighted for Perry. It’s a great honour for him to be called up to the US squad for a special Copa America tournament,” said Neilson. “It shows the quality of player that he is, and the standard of player that we’re trying to bring into the club.
“We hope he does really well and look forward to welcoming him back into the fold ahead of the forthcoming campaign.”