The life of a successful professional athlete is often about what destination is next: the next challenge, the next city, the next country. But it is a special moment when that journey forward includes a return to the place where it all began. For Andy Najar, it happened Thursday at RFK Stadium.
En route to Brazil for his World Cup debut with Honduras, Najar found himself playing between the same orange seats and bouncing bleachers that he did for three years with D.C. United. It was a proud moment for him and the club that groomed him and then sent him on his way to RSC Anderlecht in Belgium, where he blossomed into a starter during the 2013-14 season.
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“I am happy to be home again,” Najar told reporters. “The truth is that there are no words that can describe this feeling because this place watched me become who I am today.”
The second Homegrown player signed to United’s First Team, after current goalkeeper Bill Hamid, Najar racked up 10 goals and 11 assists in 82 appearances (72 starts) for United over three seasons. He was MLS Rookie of the Year in 2010 and a fan favorite throughout his time in D.C. That was evident as the 21-year-old ran out of the tunnel on Thursday to the familiar cheers of United and Honduras fans alike, and played like he was at home again. For 66 minutes the skinny winger flew up and down the sidelines before being subbed out to a standing ovation.
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"Honestly, I barely have words,” Najar told mlssoccer.com's Pablo Maurer afterward, despite the 2-0 loss to Turkey. "This was the place that I learned to really play at, and those lessons have helped me tremendously in Europe. To think that I’ve gone from [MLS] to Europe and that now I’ll be wearing my country’s jersey in the World Cup; I’m just so thankful for everything and just want to show well in Brazil."
From here, Najar will hit the road – charting new territory for himself and potentially for his upstart national team. Honduras will face Israel in Houston on Sunday, June 1, before taking the stage at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Once in Brazil, he will travel between Porto Alegre, Curitiba, and Manaus taking on France, Ecuador and Switzerland– the next challenge, the next destination.
It could be a while before Najar is back again. But he’ll always be close to the hearts of those at D.C. United.
The Road to Brazil continues this Saturday at FedExField, when Spain takes on El Salvador, then D.C. United faces the Columbus Crew. Join us!