SuperDraft: Despite trading down, DC United make it clear Steve Birnbaum was always their target
PHILADELPHIA – D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper strode into the media reception area at Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, his confident step and upbeat attitude tempered by a sense of exhaustion.
"I may go take a long nap," Kasper said, chuckling, when asked what his plans for the rest of the day were.
United's pick, University of California defender Steve Birnbaum, was the culmination of months of scouting and legwork, research which eventually lead D.C. to conclude that he was undoubtedly their best option – something Kasper was very quick to point out.
"We spent a lot of time in the last three months knowing that we were going to have the No. 1 pick," he elaborated. "Kurt [Morsink] has done a lot of scouting work, the coaches and myself were out.
"We saw Steve, and the more you talk to various people who’ve work with Steve – various national team coaches, his college coach, his youth coaches, when you meet him – he’s just an incredible person. He’s so put together. And you know that he’s going to find a way to become important."
- LIVE DRAFT TRACKER: Follow the action from Philly in real time
Kasper described a heated bidding war in the five minutes leading up to United's pick, where "several top five teams" were involved in a "bidding war" for United's pick. D.C. only came to terms with Philadelphia after the Union assured them they'd be taking University of Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake with the top pick.
"That was our condition," explained Kasper. "On the field, [Birnbaum] is dominant in the air. He scored eight goals off of set pieces this year. He led his conference in scoring. We need guys like that. With the ball, he rarely makes a bad decision. He’s a leader, he’s got great positional sense, and he loves to defend.
"When you add all of that up, it was pretty clear that he was going to be our guy."
Birnbaum was widely considered the most "pro-ready" of all of the available players in the draft, someone who could possibly step right in and contribute. He's a great fit for a United team that will need to manage minutes through league play, its US Open Cup title defense and CONCACAF Champions League.
While D.C. head coach Ben Olsen didn't address the possibility of Birnbaum getting significant minutes directly, he certainly seemed to imply that he expects him to be competitive.
"I’m very excited," said Olsen. "He’s got the intangibles we’re looking for. He’s gonna learn how to play at the professional level, but he has the physical and mental qualities to be a starter in this league. How quickly that happens – that’s up to us and him. again, from a starting point, i’ve seen very few kids with the traits that he has."
Birnbaum steps into a completely redesigned defensive corps, one torn apart after one of the worst defensive seasons in MLS history. He'll have the luxury of learning from two of the league's most seasoned center backs in Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke.
"They’re both great players," Birnbaum shared moments after being picked. "I’m just excited to learn from them. Hopefully I can just grow as a player. I’m just excited to get in there and incorporate things from their game into mine."
Kasper said he expects Birnbaum in D.C. next week for a team physical.