Steve Birnbaum's inclusion on this roster was the result of a couple superficially impressive outings with the United States which may or may not have been misleading. After getting his senior debut in the 2015 January camp, Birnbaum returned to the January camp in 2016 and scored a vital goal in a win against Iceland, before helping reassert the United States' World Cup qualifying hopes, getting the start against Guatemala in Nashville and helping the U.S. defense to a clean sheet. His introduction into the national team set-up also helped fuel European transfer rumors (some far more ridiculous than others). But if his national team career prior to the Copa was short and sweet, things didn't exactly go according to the same script. Here are the official stats on Birnbaum:
Games Played: 1
Uh, he got into a game?
Birnbaum was put into the Argentina game while the U.S. was already down 3-0 with half an hour to play. Not exactly the greatest of situations, but possibly Birnbaum's inclusion could help stem the flow of Argentina's attacks by letting Geoff Cameron add more defensive muscle in the midfield while also giving Birnbaum a chance to shine on set pieces with his dangerous aerial presence.
The move was an unmitigated failure. Birnbaum looked green, a boy amongst men, and his howler in possession allowed Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain to further pad the result for Argentina. His only registered defensive actions were two ball recoveries. He managed no shots, no clearances, and completed 9 of 11 attempted passes. Pretty simply: Birnbaum was mostly invisible when he wasn't gifting Argentina with goals.
Copa Grade - D-
It's not really fair to assign a grade for thirty minutes of action against the best team in the world, but Birnbaum didn't help his stock, either. He's already 25 (two years John Brooks' senior), and it's clear his professional progression has been hampered by the NCAA and MLS machine.
Birnbaum needs to find a place where he can continue to get game time while also upping the quality of play he is exposed to on a regular basis. It's certainly not impossible for Birnbaum to one day be in consideration for a starting center back spot (Geoff Cameron was 26 when he moved to Stoke, after all, and wasn't really in contention to start for the national team before that move), but he needs to move, and now. John Brooks is younger and better than him. Geoff Cameron will most likely be phased out of the national picture in Birnbaum's prime, but youngsters like Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers (not to mention some players much like Birnbaum, such as Tim Parker or the somehow-still under-the-radar Matt Hedges) should also be challenging for that spot at that time. Birnbaum has the physical tools to be a very good center back, but he needs an accelerated growth program that MLS simply doesn't offer him at the moment.