BERKELEY – The California Golden Bears announced today that four former players were selected in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft in Philadelphia on Thursday. Two were selected in the top three picks and three players were selected in the first round. Senior defender Steve Birnbaum was the second overall selection by D.C. United and becomes the highest player in school history to be picked. Junior defender Christian Dean, a Generation adidas signee, was then selected third by Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Defender/midfielder Ryan Neil was also selected in the first round, 18th overall by Real Salt Lake. Previously, the highest MLS SuperDraft selection for a Golden Bear was defender A.J. Soares, who was the sixth pick in the 2011 draft by the New England Revolution. Midfielder Alec Sundly became the fourth Cal player off the board when he was selected in the second round, 31st by the Revolution.
“This storybook season continues to grow,” Cal head coach Kevin Grimes said from Philadelphia. “To have three first round picks, including the second and third overall selections and four picks total in the MLS SuperDraft is unprecedented. Our administration, alumni, soccer community and current team should be glowing. We are so proud of Steve, Christian, Ryan and Alec. They are all going to have great MLS careers. Steve has graduated and Christian, Ryan and Alec are on great progress to earn their degrees as well.”
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 (21) and goals (10) this year for the Golden Bears in 19 appearances, all of which were starts during California’s run to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinal.
“I’m really excited to be in DC,” said Birnbaum after being selected by the Eastern Conference club. “It’s a great organization with a great coach in Ben Olsen, so I couldn’t be happier where I landed. I’m just really excited to get there and get to work.”
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.
“Being at Cal was such an amazing experience,” Birnbaum continued. “I can’t thank Coach Kevin Grimes enough, the five years I spent there were a great part of my life and I am excited to get the next part of it going. I think this is great for the program at Cal, it is one of the top programs in the country.”
Dean earned All-Pac-12 and NSCAA Far West first team honors for the first time in his career in 2013 and this season was an anchor alongside Birnbaum in the Bears’ central defense, forming one of the best tandems in that position in the country. Dean started all 21 of Cal’s matches, scored one goal, posted four assists out of the back and was instrumental in Cal’s seven shutouts during the 2013 season en route to the NCAA Quarterfinals. Dean started all 55 games in which he appeared over his three-year career at Cal. From his defensive position, he tallied one goal and notched six assists during his time in Berkeley.
“This is probably one of the best feelings in my life,” Dean said upon hearing his name called by MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “It is something you dream about your entire life, and once it happens, it is very surreal. I’m happy to be staying out on the west coast with Vancouver and am really looking forward to joining a great club with a great coaching staff.”
The East Palo Alto native is California’s first member of the Generation adidas class since goalkeeper David Bingham in 2011, and is the fourth in school history (Stefan Frei, Andrew Weideman and Bingham). Generation adidas players do not count against an MLS team’s salary budget. Players who join MLS as part of the Generation adidas program receive educational grants to further their college education.
“With four players from the University of California selected, it says a lot about the program, as well as the players and coaches. The job the coaching staff did with us this year was amazing, you can’t really ask for better coaches and next year I think we will see something similar in terms of draft prospects from Cal.”
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. He had a breakout performance at right midfield at the MLS Combine last week in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., skyrocketing his draft value into the first round.
“To land in Salt Lake is a dream,” said Neil. “I’m beyond speechless and am so excited to join the RSL family and play in front of those amazing fans. This is incredible for the Cal program and just goes to show how good of a coach Kevin really is, how well he develops us on and off the field. It is really a testament to him, the coaching staff and everyone involved in the program.”
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).
“Hearing my name called was definitely a feeling that is hard to describe,” Sundly said after his selection. “I am very excited to be a member of the Revolution, and am looking forward to playing again with A.J. (Soares), after playing with him at Cal my freshman year. I’ve only heard good things about the environment in New England and their organization and am excited to get out there and hopefully make an impact there. I’m just so excited for the whole Cal family who were selected today and hope everyone has very successful MLS careers.”
Thursday also marked the first time Cal has had multiple players selected in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft, as Birnbaum, Dean and Neil join the likes of Soares (6th overall pick in 2011 by New England), defender Troy Roberts (eighth overall pick in 2005 by the Los Angeles Galaxy), forward Calen Carr (tenth overall pick in 2006 by the Chicago Fire) and Frei (13th overall pick in 2009 by Toronto FC) as former California Golden Bears first round draft picks.