United boast a defensive rotation with additional strength for Saturday’s match against the Chicago Fire as defenders Steve Birnbaum and Chris Korb have returned to the Black-and-Red’s arsenal following injuries.
Birnbaum, United captain and aerial presence at center back, returned to his starting spot last weekend after missing three matches because of a concussion suffered against the New York Red Bulls. The 26-year-old started and logged a full 90 minutes last Saturday, recording 34 passes and 50 touches, and will be vital this weekend against a Chicago side that netted four goals against the Seattle Sounders last weekend.
“I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do,” Birnbaum said after re-entering the starting XI as a right back last Saturday. “I felt fine and I felt healthy. [I] have to get a good week of practice in and prepare for Chicago.”
Birnbaum’s ability to defend the box and close out space will be crucial against the Fire this weekend. Designated Player Nemanja Nikolić (eight goals, one assist) is an adept finisher while midfielder David Accam (four goals, four assists) is versatile enough to feed the attack through both the left wing and the center of the pitch. Birnbaum's leadership and vision will aid United in maintaining a disciplined back line throughout waves of Chicago's attack.
While Birnbaum missed three matches prior to last weekend, defender Chris Korb missed nearly two years of professional soccer after tearing his ACL against New York City FC on August 13, 2015. Further complications and additional surgery continuously delayed the defender’s comeback, but Korb finally returned to the pitch for the Black-and-Red on Saturday.
“It was good to be back,” Korb said following the match. “There were plenty of down moments where it [my knee] wasn’t ready when I thought it was, but I just kept going and it’s great to get my feet wet again and get back into it.”
Korb subbed on in the 53rd minute, signaling a long end to the defender’s difficult and sometimes-doubtful road to recovery. After being unable to compete in 2016, Korb's contract ran out following the 2016 season, but the veteran reached full health and completed a successful spring trial to earn a new contract this May. On Saturday, Korb completed 17 passes in 37 minutes, leading the team with 100% passing accuracy.
“You know I have a soft spot for guys that spend a lot of time out and come back,” head coach Ben Olsen said of Korb. “The soccer rust will come off, and it’s great to see him back.”
Regardless of which back-line combination takes the field against the Fire on Saturday, the Black-and-Red will enjoy the stronger and deeper defensive rotation they have moving forward.