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Steve Birnbaum Anxious to Get His MLS Career Started

The 23-year-old central defender is likely to go first in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with Birnbaum about prospective landing spots and stepping up to the next level.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 15, 2014
2:05 PM
THURSDAY SHOULD BE a very big day for a very promising soccer talent: University of California defender Steve Birnbaum.

Birnbaum is widely considered to be the most MLS-ready athlete in tomorrow's MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia. In its most recent mock draft, TopDrawerSoccer.com has Birnbaum going first overall. For a DC United team that 1) needs help now and 2) has the first pick in the draft, a polished central defender like Birnbaum is perhaps too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“I’m not nervous. I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life,” Birnbaum told American Soccer Now. “College was awesome, and I’m excited to see where I end up to start my career.”

One of the reasons why Birnbaum is so highly rated heading into the draft is that he is seen as a mature player who was a leader on a very talented Cal team that could see several of its players drafted on Thursday. Birnbaum, who turns 23 this month, is also one of the older players in the player pool.

The Irvine, Calif., native missed his entire 2012 season with a lateral collateral ligament injury to his knee and took a medical redshirt to return for a fifth year. While the growing trend of players is to leave college early to turn professional, Birnbaum is adamant that staying in college helped him.

“I think staying college was great,” Brinbaum said. “You get to mature as a player and as a person. Even in dealing with adversity in college, it matures you and you get to learn more about yourself and even more about the game before stepping into a business environment as a professional. I thought staying in college was the best decision and being there, learning from Coach Grimes and all of the assistant coaches, has been a huge advantage for me.”

Kevin Grimes is a former U.S. national team defender and has been the head coach at California for 13 years. This year, Birnbaum scored a team high 10 goals in 19 games despite playing on the backline. As a result he was named a First Team All-American. Grimes believes that Birnbaum is one of the best players the program has ever produced.

“Steve being a NSCAA First Team All-American is quite an accomplishment,” Cal Grimes said. “His accomplishments and recognition this year are unprecedented. Obviously, he will go down as one of the all-time best players in Cal soccer history. It is also the byproduct of great teammates who pushed each other every day in training.”

The Golden Bear’s other central defender, Christian Dean, is projected to go within the first five picks on Thursday.

When making the decision as to where to start his career, Birnbaum had offers from overseas but last week elected instead to sign with MLS instead. If Birnbaum is selected by DC United, as many expect he will be, he will have a very good chance to become the team’s opening day starter. And he could see important games in the CONCACAF Champions League, which United qualified for by winning the 2013 U.S. Open Cup.

“I’ve thought about it,” Birnbaum said. “Obviously it’s hard not to think about it. DC would be a great place to be. It’s a great organization. They’ve made some huge offseason moves getting a bunch of attackers like Eddie Johnson. If I fall there, it’d be awesome. I’d be excited to be the No. 1 pick. Who wouldn’t be? I’ll just be happy wherever I end up and hopefully be ready to contribute right from the beginning.”

In the future, Birnbaum does not rule out the possibility of moving his game to Europe but he is also impressed by the recent headline moves which have brought Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Defoe into the league.

“Michael Bradley is in the prime of his career and it’s a big deal for him to come back to MLS,” Birnbaum said. “I’m sure MLS is trying to get the best American players into the league. It’s a big step up. It’ll be awesome to play against some of these guys that I’ve followed for a long time. I’m happy to be in the company as these guys. I thought about playing overseas at some point. I’m just happy to be part of MLS. It’s a great league and it’s up and coming."

"I don’t know how I couldn’t be happy.”

As for the expectations and the pressure that he will face as one of the top picks, Birnbaum isn’t the least bit fazed. He is confident is his ability and is simply looking forward to starting training camp soon with his new team.

“I think it’s something I’ll be able to put aside,” Birnbaum said. “It’s what I’ve done to get here that’s gotten me to this position. I’m honestly just happy to be in this position I’m right now. If I just play my game and do what I’ve done the past four or five years, I think I’ll be fine.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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