Victories and points have been frustratingly scarce commodities for D.C. United this season, but the emergence of rookie Andy Najar has brought a welcome dose of excitement and hope to the Black-and-Red, and the teenage Honduran came up big again in San Jose on Saturday night, netting an instinctive second-half volley to earn his team a 1-1 draw at Buck Shaw Stadium.
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The result marked another uneven performance from United, but the evening must be considered a successful one given the club’s dire history in the Bay Area, where they have won only twice in 15 visits all-time.
Najar has now scored four goals in league and U.S. Open Cup competition, and the resulting buzz about his talent has reverberated around MLS, with some U.S. fans already wondering if he can somehow, someday be persuaded to wear the colors of his adopted country.
While such talk is certainly premature, it underlines the stunning rate at which he’s advanced from quiet, undersized member of United’s youth academy to regular starter with the senior squad. And his future seems even brighter.
Amid constant ups and downs on the field of play, one of the most intriguing subplots of United’s 2010 campaign has been the generational shift taking place as old hands like Jaime Moreno and Carey Talley pass the baton to the youth movement spearheaded by academy products Najar, Bill Hamid and Jordan Graye.
Such a process inevitably takes a toll on results, but Saturday’s equalizer against the ‘Quakes encapsulated the positive aspects of that delicate meshing as Moreno, who came off the bench to start the second half with his side trailing 1-0, played the incisive pass to Stephen King that led to Najar’s equalizer.
It was a move begun by a 36-year-old and finished by a 17-year-old, and it gave D.C. the reward they deserved for fighting back from Ike Opara’s 16th-minute opener with a much-improved second half showing. Such resourcefulness will be needed over the coming months if United are to climb out of the large hole their early-season struggles created.
Moreno’s challenge this season has been the acceptance of a diminished role in comparison to his glory years, while Najar must now prove that he can bolster his ample technical abilities with consistency and craftiness week in, week out. The teenager now routinely draws the double- and triple-team defending once saved for his legendary teammate and has yet to learn the finer points of overcoming such tactics in order to make his mark on every match.
Another road test awaits at Red Bull Arena next weekend. But if head coach Curt Onalfo and his men can continue to strike the right balance between energy and experience, it may yet be possible to catch up to the Eastern Conference pack.