Chris Birchall has yet to score his first MLS goal and has exactly one assist since joining the LA Galaxy last summer, but don't discount his impact on the Western Conference front-runners.
Faces seemingly change almost every week on the Galaxy, with Birchall among the exceptions. Take the midfield, for example. Veteran Eddie Lewis is sidelined with a bruised foot. Dema Kovalenko has a strained hamstring. Jovan Kirovski only recently returned to action after recovering from a knee injury. Juninho is a newcomer to the midfield, not to mention the rigors of MLS, but has been impressive since being brought in during the offseason from Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Things have gotten so unsettled that head coach Bruce Arena started rookie Michael Stephens in midfield last Saturday against Real Salt Lake.
But the one constant in the midfield reshuffling -- "Maybe it's because I'm the only one not getting injured," Birchall said with a grin -- has been the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder who joined the Galaxy last July from Brighton and Hove Albion in England.
The 25-year-old has been a steadying influence, to say the least, as the unbeaten Galaxy (4-0-0) head into this weekend's game in Kansas City against the Wizards.
"He's the kind of guy who holds down the fort," forward Mike Magee said. "Some of us run a little freely. Juninho likes to step on the gas and go forward. Myself, Mikey (Stephens), we like to play box to box. Chris stays centrally and makes sure if any of us get way out of shape he fills those holes.
"He's kind of the one to hold everything together."
Birchall downplayed his contributions -- although he is an impressive 11-1-1 in the games he's played since coming to the Galaxy -- but he also admitted he does things most fans might not be aware of.
"Maybe it's the dirty work which I do a bit more of," he said.
"Juninho is a great talent and we try and get him the ball as much as possible. With me, it's putting pressure on players, trying to make tackles and putting players out.
"The important thing is getting results. When you get results, people say you're playing well."
Birchall made his Galaxy and MLS debut as a second half substitute in a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls last July 16 but was not used in four of the next seven games. He got his first start of the season last Sept. 19 at The Home Depot Center in a 2-0 victory over FC Toronto. That also happened to mark the occasion of his only assist of the year, on a goal by David Beckham. Birchall was a fixture in the lineup the rest of the season and playoffs and has played in all four games (starting three) in 2010.
Birchall said his fitness wasn't where he wanted it to be when he first arrived in Southern California, but it's not a problem now.
Arena even took notice in training camp.
"He came in much fitter this year," he said. "Over the last six weeks or so he's played real well."
Birchall said the chemistry with his fellow midfielders is strong.
"It's because we're confident we're at the top of the league," he said. "This is the best start we've had in many years. As long as we keep it going and try to not really get away with ourselves and think we're better than anybody else we can carry on.
"It's always nice when you get into a team that's winning. Many times in my career I've gone into a team that's winning, then lose a game and I was the one dragged out. I love it here."