BERKELEY – Three members of the California men’s soccer team earned invitations to the 2014 adidas Major League Soccer Player Combine, MLS announced on Wednesday. Senior Golden Bears Steve Birnbaum, Ryan Neil and Alec Sundly claimed combine invitations, which is tied for the second-highest number of Bears invited to the combine in school history (five in 2010, three in 2005). The combine will take place in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. from Jan. 10-14 ahead of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, in Philadelphia on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. PT.
"This is a great honor for Alec, Ryan and Steve," Cal head coach Kevin Grimes said. "They have had tremendous careers here at Cal and are amongst the best that have ever worn the Cal jersey. We will miss them dearly, but feel very fortunate that they will have an outstanding opportunity to play soccer at the next level."
A panel of NCAA Division I coaches and MLS representatives selected a total of 50 college seniors from 32 Division I schools to invite to the combine. This is an initial list of invitees, as MLS will also invite players from Division II, Division III and NAIA schools as well as players from the Generation adidas program to the combine in the upcoming weeks.
The three Bears were starters and integral members of Cal’s run to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinal round this season. The 2013 squad rewrote a lot of the program’s history, as it matched the 2005 and 2010 Bears for Cal’s deepest postseason run and, unlike either of those teams, the 2013 group hosted their quarterfinal match due to earning the tournament’s fourth overall seed, the highest in school history. Cal also held the nation’s number one ranking for the first time in school history, for a six-week span after opening the season on a 12-game unbeaten streak (10-0-2). Previous Bears’ combine invitees are Calen Carr, Eric Kronberg and Tyson Wahl (2005) as well as Servando Carrasco, Hector Jimenez, Demitrius Omphroy, Davis Paul and A.J. Soares (2010).
Birnbaum, a Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy Semifinalist, an All-Pac-12 first team selection and Pac-12 All-Academic first team selection led the team in points, with 21 and goals, with ten this year for the Golden Bears in 19 appearances, all of which were starts during California’s run to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinal. The redshirt senior and team co-captain was a fixture in central defense, anchoring a back line that helped shut out seven opponents in 2013, including the No. 18 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in the third round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament. The Irvine, Calif. native also scored the gamewinning goal in the second round on an incredible strike from distance against Bradley on Nov. 24. Birnbaum appeared in 74 games for Cal (63 starts) during his collegiate career and posted 12 goals and seven assists from central defense.
Neil tallied a goal and four assists for the Bears this season, earning All-Pac-12 second team recognition for the second consecutive season. The senior finished his Cal career with two goals and 13 assists in 67 appearances (48 starts) in his versatile roles in both defense and midfield on the wing.Sundly, another co-captain had a very successful senior campaign, finishing the year with nine goals and two assists from his central midfield position in 20 appearances, all starts. Three of those goals during the regular season were gamewinners, which tied for the second most in the conference behind Pac-12 Player of the Year Leo Stoltz from UCLA. He finished his season with five goals in his last five matches, including three in the NCAA tournament. Sundly concluded his Cal career with 14 goals and three assists in 73 appearances (55 starts).