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Birnbaum: Opening Audi Field will hold "special place in my heart for a long time”

Playing for D.C. United during the inaugural season at Audi Field is a unique honor for all members of the Black-and-Red. Each player is at the forefront of a historical season and a new era for United, and has likely waited in anticipation for the new stadium’s opening since joining the club. But for Steven Birnbaum—a through-and-through Californian who came to the District in 2014 and has since made a true home for himself in the city—the addition of Audi Field to the city with which he’s fallen in love has been particularly meaningful.

A steadfast presence in United’s back line who leads the team in clearances, aerials won, and minutes played, Birnbaum has built his professional career in the nation’s capital. And while the defender has remained at the forefront of ushering in a new era for D.C. United with Audi Field, Birnbaum has also transitioned from west coast local to D.C. native in four years.

“D.C. is my first and only professional club,” Birnbaum said. “I was drafted here out of college five years ago. I fell in love with the city from the beginning.”

In the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, with the alluring second-overall pick at their disposal, D.C. United selected Birnbaum from the University of California Berkeley. After growing up in Newport, California, and attending college in Berkeley, Birnbaum made the cross-country trek to his new club and new home in the nation’s capital.

As he started building his next chapter of life on the east coast, the defender also quickly broke into the Black-and-Red ranks, playing 21 games during his rookie season and finishing 2014 as an MLS Rookie of the Year finalist.

Since coming to the District, Birnbaum has developed into a mainstay in United’s back line, and a true local of the city. The defender has built a reputation as one of the league’s most aerially-deft center backs, using his physicality and vision to thwart opponents’ attacks by way of interceptions, clearances, and duels won.

As Birnbaum has become a fan favorite thanks to his growth with the club and his even-keeled, composed demeanor on the pitch, D.C. has in turn become a true home-away-from-home for the Californian. When he’s not on the field, fans may casually see Birnbaum enjoying the city in the same ways they do—checking out local restaurants, biking around downtown, shopping at farmers’ markets, or walking his dog, Ham.  

“I have lived here now, inside the city, for three years, and have absolutely fallen in love with it,” Birnbaum said.

Now, with Audi Field’s opening in the heart of the District, Birnbaum has another new ‘home’ in his city. The stadium represents a meaningful step forward for D.C. United, but, as Birnbaum recognizes, Audi Field also holds positive implications for the league and the D.C. community.  

“Putting Audi Field in the middle of D.C. has shown the growth of Major League Soccer in our country, but it’s also going to hold a special place for our community, to get local kids growing up playing soccer and showing them how to be on the forefront of the major sports community here in the District,” Birnbaum said.

And while Birnbaum’s professional career has featured numerous special moments—from Rookie of the Year finalist, to 2016 MLS All-Star, to his international debut with the U.S. Men’s National Team—the inaugural season at Audi Field, in the heart of the city Birnbaum loves, is perhaps one of the most meaningful chapters of the defender’s playing days.

“Having a stadium in our backyard is going to hold a special place in my heart for a long time.”