WASHINGTON – D.C. United sent one representative to Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star Game, and a very deserving one at that, given Jaime Moreno’s dazzling exploits over a 15-year career. But United fans and officials were hoping the MLS original would have a teammate in Houston.
Rookie Andy Najar has been the highlight of an otherwise drab season in the nation’s capital and many in and around the club took part in a campaign, informally dubbed “Najallstar,” urging the league to bring the Honduran starlet into the squad that lost 5-2 to Manchester United at Reliant Stadium on Wednesday.
Najar didn’t get the call from All-Star coach Bruce Arena nor Commissioner Don Garber, but the fact that his name was mooted points to the massive strides he has taken in his first professional season. But Najar says he never expected to take part in this year’s All-Star Game and has no qualms about missing out.
WATCH: Najar's goal vs. LA Galaxy
“It doesn’t matter for me,” said the soft-spoken winger after D.C. United’s training session on Wednesday morning, “but I appreciate that people are talking about me and I give thanks to them.”
The teenager possesses an instinctive feel for the game, but his grounded nature and hunger for improvement has keyed surprisingly rapid progress over the first half of this season. That eagerness to excel has drawn strong praise from a number of teammates, including one veteran who is typically difficult to impress.
“Just his knowledge of the game,” said Moreno when asked about his leading impressions of Najar. “When I saw him the first time, I knew he had a lot of talent. It was just a matter of time and just giving him the opportunity to play the game, and he’s proved that.
“Great players start playing at 17, 15, 16 years old. He’s got a great future. He’s going on the right track [and] there’s no doubt in my mind that if he keeps doing the same things that he’s doing now, he’s going to be one of the greatest players in the league – if he stays here. And I think he could have opportunity to go to Europe, too.”
Najar is United’s leading scorer in both league and US Open Cup play, and his exploits have not only drawn attention around MLS circles, but also in his native land, Honduras.
Najar and his family immigrated to northern Virginia when he was 13. While he is not yet a US citizen, if he continues his progress in the years ahead, he might have the opportunity to choose whether to represent Honduras or the US at the international level.
United’s technical staff have soft-pedaled this topic and counseled him to focus on his club duties, and “The Little Warrior” is happy to oblige. But as long as he’s excelling on the field, the questions will keep coming.
Last week, a contingent of Honduran media rolled into RFK Stadium to interview their soccer-mad country’s latest phenomenon and probe his loyalties. Many among the Catrachos faithful are concerned that the US will “steal their jewel,” as one recent headline read, but Najar is playing down the issue and denies that he’s been pressured to commit himself.
“I am very happy for them to come and talk to me, to take some pictures, [get] interviews," Najar said. "I am very excited and say thanks to them for coming here to the United States to speak to me. They just want to know who I am and how I am doing here.”
Amid all this, he remains a quiet 17-year-old who just received his driving permit last week. Great expectations have proven burdensome for MLS phenoms in the past, but for now, Najar has the world at his feet.
“He’s just got to come in every day and do his job and everything else will just take care of itself,” said veteran teammate Clyde Simms. “A lot of young guys get caught up in all the talk and maybe get a little bit of the big head, but I think Andy’s done a good job. We keep him grounded in the locker room.
“He amazes me,” added Simms. “I couldn’t imagine being his age with the success he’s had.”