Watch Andy Najar play for more than five minutes, and onething is crystal clear: The closerthe 19-year-old phenom is to goal, the better.
Which goal the D.C. United academy product should be closest tohowever, has proven a popular debate of late. MLS pundits have both lauded and harshly criticized therecent move to use Najar in defense. Those in favor of the shift see the Honduran’s potential as a perimeterdefender, while those in opposition argue that his considerable attackingtalents might be better utilized further up field.
But what does the introverted – and at times painfully shy - Najar think about the move?
“The truth is I’m not a defensive player [by nature],” Najaradmitted in a Spanish-language interview last week. “But I think what I did against Chicago impressed me a lot,as much in attack as in defense. Defense is most important, but I had confidence going forward. I took that confidence and decided toattack and had an assist. It wentwell.”
In saying his performance ‘went well’, Najar displays theunderstated humility that has made him popular among fans and teammatesalike. Against the Fire, hisassist on Lionard Pajoy’s 45th minute strike was - simply put -a thing of beauty. Locked in aone-on-one matchup against Patrick Nyarko, one of the fastest players in MLS,Najar turned the Ghanian easily. Then – while falling backwards – he delivered a perfect cross, which theColombian converted.
It wasn’t the first time Najar has produced a goal fromUnited’s right back spot. Heearned his first assist of 2012 while playing defense in D.C.’s 5-3 loss toSan Jose in early May. Two weekslater, he again assisted from his new position – this time to Hamdi Salihi in a3-1 home victory over Toronto.
In fact, all but one of Najar’s four assists this seasonhave come with him playing right back.
“You look at soccer now and the outside backs have to begood on the ball and dynamic,” Olsen said after Najar’s eye-opening showagainst Chicago. “They have tohave great engines to get up and down the field and they have to be brave intheir defending. He’s got a lot ofthose qualities.”
A look at the trends in global soccer would seem to supportOlsen’s point. Attack-mindedplayers like Dani Alves and Maicon are now counted among the world’s best rightbacks. D.C.'s Brandon McDonald recentlycompared Najar to another forward-thinking outside defender – Brazilian legendCafu.
For now, Najar – who missed Saturday’s loss in Real SaltLake with an abscessed tooth - doesn't mind the comparisons, or his newposition.
“The truth is I am liking it more,” Najar said. “I knew the position well from theacademy and because of that, I know how to play there. If I end up staying at right back, I’dbe happy.”