WASHINGTON – Steve Birnbaum has returned from US national team duty, but was absent from the training pitch on Tuesday as D.C. United prepared for 782778639" tabindex="0">Friday night's Futbol de Viernes visit to Real Salt Lake (782778640" tabindex="0">10:30 pm ET; UniMás, MLS LIVE).
Some might see that as a red flag, given the near-constant chatter about overseas clubs' interest in the steady center back ahead of the international transfer window that opens next week. But Birnbaum is just nursing a minor hip knock – and the Black-and-Red say they have no plans to part with their rising defensive star any time soon.
“Oh really? Who's telling you guys that, his agents?” said head coach Ben Olsen with a chuckle when asked about the litany of foreign media reports claiming that Birnbaum is on the move, with Israeli clubs Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv most prominently linked.
"Look, Steve's part of D.C. United. ... He took a little knock in his hip yesterday and he got a shot to calm it down and he'll be fine 782778642" style="line-height: 1.6em;" tabindex="0">tomorrow. He'll be ready to go 782778643" style="line-height: 1.6em;" tabindex="0">tomorrow.”
Last week an Israeli outlet claimed that Haifa had tendered an offer north of $500,000 for Birnbaum, who by virtue of his Jewish faith could apparently receive an Israeli passport and be classified as a domestic player in Ligat HaAl. The Israeli's top division has a restriction on how many foreign players can play for each club.
Such a figure might seem like a low selling price for a US international with Birnbaum's abilities. But Israeli-based BBC World Football correspondent Raphael Gellar added fuel to the rumors when he tweeted that “there's no doubt” that the 25-year-old Birnbaum is moving to the Middle Eastern nation sooner or later.
Asked by a reporter on Tuesday whether United “had gotten a chuckle” about such a “lowball offer,” Olsen smiled, then demurred.
“I don't get caught up in that stuff, because there's a story every week about someone else going somewhere,” he said. “That's not my concern, and I don't think it's Steve's major concern right now, either.”
Olsen did stop short of declaring that Birnbaum is not for sale at any price.
“I can't say that,” he said. “That's not my place to say. I'm a coach. I coach these guys. I coach the players I have available.”