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D.C. United season review: Steve Birnbaum

The captain goes under the microscope.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Birnbaum had a pretty good 2016, with United States caps both in World Cup Qualifying action and during the Copa America Centenario, and had European interest from Israel and Germany which was parlayed into a new contract to keep him in Black-and-Red for a few years.

Then 2017 happened. It happened for a lot of players but Birnbaum may have crystallized it more than most. He was given the team captaincy, replacing Bobby Boswell, and paired with Sean Franklin, a move designed to play the ball out of the back more at the beginning of the season and give Birnbaum a chance to serve as the backline organizer. The results were less than optimal early on thought hardly disastrous, though shortly thereafter disaster would come.

During April’s game with the New York Red Bulls in April, Birnbaum suffered a concussion in injury time, which saw him stretchered off. In retrospect that may have been the best of it, as Birnbaum suffered two more concussions in 2017, the last just 3 weeks ago against the Portland Timbers found him face down and unconscious as play moved on.

In between botched player ideas, players in declining capability next to and in front of him, and his being benched due to performance, Birnbaum still managed to equal his career high in games played (26) for the second year in a row and almost equaled his career high in minutes played, 91 minutes shy of 2016’s 2340. Statistically his poor play perhaps got to him onfield, with WhoScored’s numbers showing a player who was fouled more and gave up the ball more when he did have it, and perhaps because of the new organizing role, lacked the defensive blasting roles of the first couple of years of his career, and won 4 aerials per game, the second consecutive decline in the category for the vaunted air monster.

Which brings us back to Birnbaum. The center back is due to turn 27 in January, and his contract (which the club used Targeted Allocation Money on) runs for two more years, with a club-held option in 2020, and has a base salary of $474,000, which is just below the Designated Player threshold of $480,625. With concussions essentially bookending a disappointing 2017 season, European interest has in all likelihood dried out for the time being, which at least gives Birnbaum a chance to get his head healthy and past that, his form back to what he and we are used to.

But hey, enough my recapping, let’s get down to brass tacks:


Do you want Steve Birnbaum back for the 2018 season?

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