WASHINGTON – He stands only 5-foot-7 and weighs 150 lbs. – and those official numbers might even be a tad bit generous – but the suspended Andy Najar leaves massive shoes to fill along D.C. United’s right flank this weekend.
The Honduran-born rookie has gone from unheralded academy signing to primary creative weapon in the space of six months, to the extent that his absence through yellow-card accumulation represents a major challenge for United’s attack against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night.
The Black-and-Red are shorthanded in several areas due to injuries and international duty, with coach Ben Olsen forced to cobble together a patchwork back line and call in Guyanese international J.P. Rodrigues on short-term loan from Miami FC for defensive cover.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity this year,” said technical director and temporary assistant coach Chad Ashton. “It’s difficult and obviously things can go wrong in a game. But at least to start, we’ll be fine. If all of a sudden, we get a couple injuries in the game, it would get a little scary, but I think we’ll be fine.”
But the task of replacing the club’s most dynamic attacker? That poses a particularly devilish conundrum.Playmaker Branko Boskovic is in Europe for UEFA qualifying action with the Montenegrin national team, so United will probably field holding midfielders Kurt Morsink and Stephen King in the center.
Santino Quaranta is expected to remain on the left wing, where he’s made a habit of booming diagonal balls across to Najar all season.
That tactic has paid dividends with the many one-on-one dribbling opportunities it’s created for the teenager, but against San Jose, someone else will have to seize the initiative against Bobby Convey or whoever starts at left back for the Earthquakes.
“If you can get it over to [Najar], he does well when he’s isolated one on one. I figured that out. It works, so I’ll keep doing it,” said Quaranta of his favored cross-field pass.
He says he’ll stick with that line of attack against the Quakes, even though Najar is out.
“Yeah, I’ll try, and see how it works out,” he said with a chuckle. “If it doesn’t work out, then we’ll go back to on the ground.”
Olsen could move a central midfielder like King out to the right wing, though recent arrivals Carlos Varela and Junior Carreiro offer more aggressive options if handed a debut in the first XI.
Veteran striker Jaime Moreno is reportedly in the frame for a starting role up top for the first time in weeks, and the United legend could offer a timely dose of guile in tandem with Pablo Hernandez. Moreno’s final days with DC also represent another source of motivation for his teammates.
“It’s the last couple of games for Jaime here, too. I think the guys want to win games, you know?” noted Quaranta. “There’s a lot of mental games that go into this stuff. You want to win the game, you’ll win it.”