MLS Draft: United trades top pick, nabs Cal’s Steve Birnbaum with second pick

PHILADELPHIA — The task of rebuilding a woeful D.C. United side has been no small feat. But two months and 10 new players into the offseason, Dave Kasper finally feels like he’s ready to stop and take a breath.

By selecting California center back Steve Birnbaum with the second overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, United added one more key piece to a roster that has been rebuilt after one of the worst campaigns in MLS history.

“I may go take a long nap,” Kasper said. “The last 60 days have been unbelievable. I mean, we’ve added [10] players now. This is a lot of work, a lot of planning, a lot of time in the war room.”

United held the No. 1 pick until the final moments before selection, instead executing a trade that saw D.C. send the top choice to the Philadelphia Union for the second pick and allocation money.

The Union then took Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake, a combine standout who created a bidding war, with U.S. national team shot-stopper Bill Hamid already between the posts for United.

“In the lobby of these things, the night before the draft there’s a lot of talk that goes on,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “Sometimes things happen, and sometimes they don’t.”

In Birnbaum, United have acquired a player widely called the most MLS-ready prospect available in the draft. A five-year player at Cal, Birnbaum has been scouted as a strong tackler, smart defender and — a 6 feet 2 inches — an aerially dominant presence who led the Pac-12 with 10 goals this past season.

“He’s got the intangibles we’re looking for to continue to build a team that makes sense,” Olsen said. “He’s going to learn how to play at the professional level, but he has the physical and mental qualities to be a starter in this league. How quick that happens, that’s up to us and him. From a starting point, I’ve seen very few kids with the traits that he has.”

In addition to Birnbaum, United has also added sturdy MLS veterans Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke, as well as Canada international Nana Attakora, to its central defense corps to strengthen the league’s second-worst back line.

Although Birnbaum is expected so sit behind Parke and Boswell to start 2014, the 22-year-old is still expected to get considerable minutes — United play CONCACAF Champions League games in 2014 in addition to MLS matches — while absorbing knowledge from the veterans.

“They’re both great center backs,” Birnbaum said. “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.”

NOTES: United also traded an international roster slot to the Montreal Impact for a second-round pick, which they used to select UCLA midfielder Victor Munoz. … Kasper confirmed the signing of forward Fabian Espindola is imminent. The Argentine was selected in last month’s re-entry draft but still needs to agree to terms. … Georgetown midfielder Steve Neumann and Maryland forward Patrick Mullins, the two-time Hermann Trophy winner, went to the New England Revolution at No. 4 and No. 11, respectively. Maryland’s Schillo Tshuma went 17th to the Portland Timbers.

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