PHILADELPHIA – D.C. United entered Thursday afternoon's MLS SuperDraft looking to shore up their central defense, and they looked to have done so by selecting Steve Birnbaum, who many coaches and scouts considered to be the best defender available.
Aside from being a solid defensive prospect, Birnbaum also has a nose for goal – improbably enough, he led the Pac-12 in scoring last year. And more than a few of his tallies came on set pieces, much like one of MLS' current premier center backs.
"I try and model my game similar to an Omar Gonzalez," the 6-foot-2 Birnbuam shared after being chosen with the No. 2 pick. "Even though he has a bigger frame than me, I think I’m pretty good in the air. I try and be as composed as he is, I think he’s pretty composed and makes pretty good decisions, and he’s great on corners, too."
In some ways, Birnbaum may be doing himself a bit of a disservice by comparing himself to Gonzalez. While it'd be unfair to say he is better on the ball than the LA Galaxy standout – this is a player who hasn't even taken to the field in an MLS match – it's worth mentioning that many speak of how well he plays with the ball at his feet, something said a bit less frequently about Gonzalez.
But United's newest acquisition actually seems to think that his on-the-ball skills could use some work, something that he was quick to point out on Thursday.
"You can always make decisions quicker, especially at the next level," said Birnbaum. "It’s all about making quick decisions and being sharper and crisper in your passes. I think you can always be quicker in passing, I’d like to be 100 percent every game in passing, so that’s what I’d like to work on."
- Get more D.C. United news at DCUnited.com
He'll certainly get a chance to refine his trade in D.C., working for one of the league's grittiest and hardest-working head coaches in Ben Olsen. It's an opportunity Birnbaum seems ready to embrace.
"I love his passion. He’s really passionate about the whole thing," said Birnbaum. "I think that’s what drew him to me. We have similar styles of playing – working hard as much as we can and doing whatever is necessary to win."