FOX Soccer Exclusive
Andy Najar growing up fast in D.C.
Amid the samba beats and dancing around the new Meadowlands Stadium a month ago, one face stood as anonymous as the rest.
Andy Najar surveyed the scene, watching the sea of soccer fans preparing to watch the U.S. National team play Brazil.
Not a single person recognized him.
It didn't matter that Najar is one of the most exciting young players in Major League Soccer, or that he could one day choose to play for the United States instead of Honduras, where he has become a celebrity.
He's still a relative unknown here, but he was unknown in Honduras too just four years ago.
Back then, Najar was a teenager with pro soccer aspirations he’d carried since the age of three, when he decided he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. When he moved to the United States, even he couldn’t have imagined the whirlwind that would follow.
A chance connection with the D.C. United Academy program paved the way for stardom, with Najar emerging as the program’s top prospect. When he signed a professional contract with the first team last March, the 17-year-old figured to be a long-term prospect who’d take time to develop.
Early on, it appeared that process would take a while. When he first joined the team, Najar didn’t say a word. He was with the team a month before he felt comfortable enough to talk to his teammates, but once Najar gained that confidence that came with feeling like a part of the team, his confidence on the field soon followed.
“It wasn’t easy for me, I was new and younger than everybody, so I didn’t say much,” Najar said. “Once I felt more comfortable, I was able to talk more and now (my teammates) probably wish they could shut me up.”
Najar didn’t just come out of his shell off the field. He blossomed on the field. He has wowed observers with his fearless and dynamic wing play and has served as one of the few bright spots in a nightmare season for D.C. United.
“I didn’t think this year would be like this, with things happening so quickly,” said a modest Najar. “Once I played my first game, I felt the confidence that I could play on that level. Since then, I’ve been having fun.”
Hondurans have taken notice, and media in the Central American nation has already begun working overtime chronicling the budding career of the teen midfielder, labeling him a future star and inevitable national team contributor.
The only problem is Najar has not made a national team commitment. He is currently only eligible to play for Honduras, but he holds an American green card and on track to secure his American citizenship, meaning he could wind up having the option to play for the United States. It’s a subject Hondurans are eager to pin him down on, with Honduras national team manager Juan de Dios Castillo already expressing his desire to call in Najar.
Four years ago, the idea of playing for Honduras would have been unimaginable for Najar, but today, he’s actually putting the idea on hold a he focuses on his budding professional career.
“It’s an honor to have people talk about me and the national team, but right now I’m thinking about my career and getting better with D.C.,” Najar said. “I’m still young so I’m in no rush to think about that part of my career.”
Despite being just 17 years old, Najar has already established himself as one of the most dangerous wingers in MLS, and the projections have already begun about what he might be able to do four years from now, as a 21-year old. European scouts have already begun taking notice, with rumors circulating that English club Arsenal has him on its radar and is interested in bringing him in for a training stint.
Before Najar can think about Europe, and his national team options, Najar is still just trying to be a teenager. He is working on securing his high school diploma, which became tougher when he left high school to turn pro. Najar is also trying to learn English and adapting to life as a professional soccer player.
Najar may not have the option of waiting much longer. With Honduras pressing him for a national team decision, and his professional opportunities growing with every impressive performance he delivers for a hopeless D.C. team, Najar is fast becoming a player who is harder and harder to ignore, a player who won’t have the luxury of relative anonymity much longer.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.