D.C. United captain Steven Birnbaum will need eight to 12 weeks to recover from ankle surgery, a timetable that, under normal circumstances, would sideline him for the entirety of training camp and the start of the regular season.

Birnbaum, a center back entering his eighth season, missed the last eight matches of the 2020 campaign with the injury. He said he continued to experience pain and setbacks before deciding to undergo surgery Monday.

A team official said doctors removed bone fragments, which they believe were the source of the pain.

MLS remains uncertain when camps will open and the season will begin. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league is targeting openers in mid-March, about two weeks later than last year. But labor issues between MLS and the players’ association remain unresolved and the threat of a lockout remains.

Training camps typically open in mid to late January, six weeks before the openers.

Birnbaum, who will turn 30 on Jan. 23, has appeared in 173 regular season matches (171 starts) and is United’s longest-serving player without interruption.

Birnbaum and Frédéric Brillant, 35, have been United’s first-choice duo in central defense for much of the past three years. Late last season, however, second-year pro Donovan Pines earned regular starts in place of Birnbaum or Brillant.

United is in the market for a fourth center back. One possibility is former D.C. academy player Michael Edwards, 20, whose contract with Wolfsburg expires this summer. Edwards plays for Wolfsburg’s second team in the German fourth division.

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