USMNT defender Steven Birnbaum ruled out for Panama friendly

BY Kyle McCarthy • February 7, 2015

CARSON, Calif. --

United States men’s national team defender Steven Birnbaum will miss the friendly against Panama on Sunday with a knee injury.

Birnbaum made his first international appearance and played the full 90 minutes in the 3-2 defeat to Chile last Wednesday, but he picked up the complaint in the past couple of days. The tweak prompted the U.S. Soccer medical staff to rule him out of this game as a precautionary measure, according to a federation spokesperson.

Klinsmann praised Birnbaum’s work during the January training camp and rued the knock that will keep the D.C. United defender from winning his second cap.

“I think Steve did very well in Chile,” Klinsmann said during a press conference on Saturday. “For the whole camp, he’s been sharp from the first day on (with) the opportunity that came across. It’s a bummer, obviously, that keeps him out of this one game, but, most importantly, he’s going to be healthy in the next couple of days and continue preseason with D.C. United. Definitely, it was a very positive experience for Steven.”

The promising prognosis may boost United as it prepares for a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal tie against Costa Rican side L.D. Alajuelense later this month, but it does little to solve the defensive dilemma facing Klinsmann on Sunday afternoon.

Klinsmann fielded Birnbaum as the right marking back in a three-man defense during the first half against Chile and then partnered him with Matt Besler in the middle of a back four after the interval.

Birnbaum’s absence creates a vacancy in the starting XI and underscores the more fundamental decision ahead regarding the shape of the team against Panama.

Klinsmann must determine whether to change to a back four from the outset -- Besler could partner Jermaine Jones in that setup -- or revert to the three-man defense again to compensate for the lack of specialist fullbacks in the squad.

The matchup against Panama may lend itself to a back four with coach Hernan Dario Gomez expected to name a 4-4-2 setup, but Klinsmann opted to keep his options close in the buildup to the affair.

“Yes, it changes a little bit with our approach and how we are going to play the back line,” Klinsmann said. “But you have to be patient for another day to have it in front of you.”


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