Steven Birnbaum has been named United’s 2018 Defensive MVP for his performances in the Black-and-Red backline throughout the season. The 27-year-old enjoyed a career year that saw him break the D.C. United single-season record for minutes played after being on the field for every minute of the regular season (3,060), surpassing former defender Bobby Boswell's previous record. Birnbaum's durability made him one of only four Major League Soccer players (excluding goalkeepers) to compete in every minute of the 2018 regular season, and his aerial dominance in the back helped push United toward their midseason turnaround and into the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Birnbaum’s athleticism and aerial ability have defined his playing style and have proved to be critical tools for United on either side of the ball as he offers defensive cover and an attacking presence on offensive set pieces. He led Major League Soccer in aerial duel wins (160), ahead of Kei Kamara (140), CJ Sapong (125) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (112). The six-foot-two-inch defender from California was able to add two goals for United in the regular season, including a headed goal on the road against New York City FC on Sept. 8 that kept the Black-and-Red firmly in the Eastern Conference's tight playoff race. Birnbaum also led the league in headed clearances (117), with 33 more than the next player, Portland’s Larrys Mabiala (84).
The defender spent a significant amount of time on the training field improving his accuracy and range of passing to add another dimension to his game this year, helping United spur more attacks from the backline. Birnbaum completed 1,113 passes in 2018, which was second only to midfield maestro Luciano Acosta (1,369). He recorded an impressive 81% passing accuracy on the season, a significant improvement from the 74% passing accuracy he posted in 2017. The defender's ability to find players' feet and ignite the attack from the defensive third made him an important cog in the Black-and-Red's offensive unit.
After one of the most remarkable midseason turnarounds in MLS history, Birnbaum will look to use the offseason to continue working tirelessly at refining and improving his craft ahead of 2019. Entering his sixth year in MLS since being drafted by the Black-and-Red in 2014, Birnbaum’s experience and leadership in the backline, combined with the return of stalwart goalkeeper Bill Hamid and gritty defensive midfielder Russell Canouse, will give United fans a reason for excitement about the team's defensive potential in 2019.