For defender Steve Birnbaum, the challenges of 2017 pushed the 26-year-old to learn how to lead through a tumultuous season. After assuming the role of captain, Birnbaum directed the Black-and-Red from his center back spot for 26 matches and 2,249 minutes. While injuries and team struggles prevented the defender from matching his standout 2016 season that saw him set career highs in starts, minutes, goals, assists, and shots, Birnbaum is already looking forward to getting back to work and improving ahead of 2018.
"There's going to be pressure on us to bounce back from this season," Birnbaum said, "but the guys are excited for it. We've been through a rough stretch but now we're looking forward to coming in for preseason."
As the Black-and-Red turn their attention to the future, they're focused on fixing the mistakes that cost them valuable points in 2017. Birnbaum believes the club lacked the same attention to detail that made United successful in years past, and he vowed to use the winter to regain that sharp sense of focus on the little things.
“We’re putting in the work now,” Birnbaum said. “We’ll have to put in a lot of work in the offseason to get where we want to be, but there’s excitement surrounding it.”
The captain noted that team-wide attention to detail will be even more important next season, as United will likely open 2018 with a stretch of road games before debuting at Audi Field in the summer.
“The biggest thing for us is to pick up points," Birnbaum said of United's needed areas of improvement. "We have to pick up points, especially on the road early in the season, to make sure we’re in a good place coming into Audi Field. That’s the biggest thing for us, to find our identity in the beginning of the season, and pick up some big points away.”
While United struggled to fully find their identity in 2017, Birnbaum remained a key part of a Black-and-Red defensive unit that needed steady presences. The 26-year-old led United defenders in minutes played (2,249), starts (25), clearances (127), and interceptions (40). Now, as the defender prepares to enter his fifth season with United and assume a more veteran role, Birnbaum knows the key to the Black-and-Red's 2018 success boils down to relentless preparation and an unmatched work ethic.
“It’s going to be grinding and figuring out a way to win games in the league. We know how to do it, but we have to get it done this next year.”