Draft prospects don't get much better. Center back Steve Birnbaum is perhaps the most MLS ready of any of the players in the draft. The Cal defender will be off the board quickly given his combination of size, strength, footwork and intelligence.
Birnbaum came back from an injury shortened 2012 season to dominate his senior year. He was a NSCAA First Team All-American. He tallied 10 goals and helped the defense to 7 shutouts and a 14-5-2 record. As a captain he led the Bears into the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual champions Maryland in the semifinals. The bigger mark may be measured by his absence. The Bears lost two consecutive games at the end of the season while Birnbaum nursed an injury that forced him from the lineup.
Most college soccer observers think Birnbaum can start immediately for many teams in the league and grow into a dominant defender. At 6'2" and 180 pounds, he's a menace in the air on offense and defense. He is adept at playing with the ball at his feet and recorded 7 assists to go with his 12 goals during his college career.
Birnbaum is also a fifth year college senior, he's experienced and can make an immediate impact, but he lacks some of the upside of the younger players that are in the draft. There isn't much room to grow in his game, but a team looking for a no frills defender that can step in immediately, like the Crew, then Birnbaum is the perfect pick.
What the Crew will be looking for in the draft: A starting central defender. The Crew should be able to get one from the 4th pick with Christian Dean, Steve Birnbaum, and A.J. Cochran available. They also need a scorer and depth on the wing.
Who the experts say the Crew will pick: Birnbaum (if he lasts) or an offensive player like Cyle Larin or Schillo Tshuma. The team has needs in both spots.
Why I'm invariably wrong: Birnbaum won't last until the 4th pick as D.C. United or the Philadelphia Union looking at him. The Crew will still want to solidify a very thin central defense with one of the MLS ready players available.
Why I'm smarter than the pundits: As deep as this draft is at center back, Birnbaum may get overlooked a little. D.C. has some talent in the pipeline and Dean may get picked off first due to his high ceiling.
Full Mock Draft results (click on player names to see the profiles)
|1. D.C. United||Black and Red United||Patrick Mullins|
|2. Philadelphia Union||Brotherly Game||Steve Neumann|
|3. Vancouver Whitecaps||86 Forever||Andre Blake|
|4. Columbus Crew||Massive Report||Steve Birnbaum|
|5. FC Dallas||Big D Soccer||Christian Dean|
|6. Union||Brotherly Game||Marlon Hairston|
|7. Whitecaps||86 Forever||Damion Lowe|
|8. Chicago Fire||Hot Time In Old Town||Grant Van De Casteele|
|9. San Jose Earthquakes||Quake, Rattle and Goal||Eric Miller|
|10. Montreal Impact||Mount Royal Soccer||A.J Corrado|
|11. Colorado Rapids||Burgundy Wave||Schillo Tshuma|
|12. New England Revolution||The Bent Musket||JJ Koval|
|13. Seattle Sounders||Sounder at Heart||Aodhan Quinn|
|14. LA Galaxy||LAG Confidential||Fifi Baiden|
|15. Toronto FC||Waking the Red||AJ Cochran|
|16. Houston Dynamo||Dynamo Theory||Mamadou Diouf|
|17. Portland Timbers||Stumptown Footy||Reinaldo Brenes|
|18. Real Salt Lake||RSL Soapbox||Ben Sweat|
|19. Revolution||The Bent Musket||Marco Franco|
|20. Chivas USA||The Goat Parade||Enrique Cardenas|
|21. Sounders||Sounder at Heart||Taylor Peay|
|22. New York Red Bulls||Once a Metro||Pete Caringi|
|23. Crew||Massive Report||Pedro Ribeiro|
|24. Toronto FC||Waking the Red||Joey Dillon|
|25. Union||Brotherly Game||Jared Watts|
|26. Timbers||Stumptown Footy||Kevin Cope|
|27. Union||Brotherly Game||Kyle Venter|
|28. Earthquakes||Quake, Rattle and Goal||Mackenzie Pridham|
|29. Impact||Mout Royal Soccer||Jimmy Ockford|
|30. Whitecaps||86 Forever||Nikita Kotlov|
|31. Revolution||The Bent Musket||Victor Chavez|
|32. Dynamo||Dynamo Theory||Kristopher Tyrpak|
|33. Rapids||Burgundy Wave||Rafael Diaz|
|34. Red bulls||Once a Metro||Alex Martinez|
|35. Rapids||Burgundy Wave||Zach Bolden|
|36. Timbers||Stumptown Footy||Mark Sherrod|
|37. Impact||Mout Royal Soccer||Michael Calderon|
|38. Sporting Kansas City||The Daily Wiz|