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Cal Bears in great demand
by Mike Woitalla, January 17th, 2014 4:25PM

TAGS:  ayso, college men, mls


[2014 MLS SUPERDRAFT] For only the second time in MLS draft history, dating back to the league's inaugural MLS season of 1996, two players from the same college were among the top three picks. Cal defenders Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean went No. 2 and No. 3, while Ryan Neil was No. 18 and a fourth Golden Bear Alec Sundly, went in the second round.

The last time two players from the same program went as high was in 2011 when Akron’s Darlington Nagbe and Perry Kitchen went No. 2 and 3. (Their teammate Zarek Valentin was No. 4.)

“After they had their first season under their belts as freshmen,” Cal coach Kevin Grimes said of Birnbaum and Dean, “you could tell that both of these guys were probably bound to be professionals. I can't say we imagined they’d go two-three in the draft.”

Birnbaum, selected by D.C. United, is a Southern Califonia product who started out in AYSO before playing for the Irvine Strikers and Pateadores. Birnbaum returned to Berkeley as a fifth-year senior after having to sit out in 2012 with knee injury.

“Steve has tremendous attention to detail in his defending and his aerial game is unmatched, both offensive and defensively,” Grimes said. “He’s a constant threat on all set pieces and anything that’s served into the box in the attack. Defensively he never loses a battle in the air. All in all, Steve is extremely well-rounded and ready to go.”

Dean, who’s headed to Vancouver, hails from Northern California and played youth ball for the De Anza Force. He leaves Cal after three season as a Generation adidas signing.

“Christian has probably the most unique combination of technical skill and athleticism perhaps in the whole draft,” Grimes said. “He’s left-footed. He’s got a very soft touch. He combines that with being an outstanding athlete, being 6-foot-4, great speed, great quickness. Christian at this point just needs a little more experience. He needs more games, more repetition, more training -- things of that nature. He’s going to a great player."

Neil (Real Salt Lake) and Sundly (New England) both hail from Southern California, played for United FC and Irvine Strikers, respectively, and both played four seasons at Cal, the last of which saw the Bears enter the year unranked but rise to No. 1 within weeks after opening with wins over 2012 College Cup teams Georgetown and Maryland. The Bears cruised to 12-0-2 record and eventually a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament -- its highest ever. They fell to Maryland the quarterfinals.

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