D.C. United’s Andy Najar was excited to make his Honduras national team debut this summer. After committing to his native country last month, he felt good about his chances of representing the Catrachos at the CONCACAF Gold Cup next month, the region’s biggest competition outside of World Cup qualifying.
But under complicated and bizarre circumstances that unfolded the past two days, the 18-year-old midfielder was left off the Honduras roster.
Here’s what happened:
Honduras named him to the preliminary roster a few weeks ago and asked United to release him May 26, three days ahead of a Gold Cup tuneup against El Salvador in Houston.
Although FIFA rules state that clubs must release players 14 days before major international events, clubs commonly try to negotiate a shorter window. It’s part of the give-and-take in the universal tug of war between clubs and countries. In this case, because MLS plays through the summer, the call-ups threatened to leave clubs shorthanded for several regular season matches.
United asked Honduras for permission to retain Najar for MLS games at Portland on May 29 and Los Angeles on June 3 – three days before Honduras’ Gold Cup opener vs. Guatemala in Carson, Calif.
Honduras wasn’t going to allow Najar to play for United on June 3, so United turned its attention squarely to the May 29 match. In a similar situation, it had received permission from Canada to keep defender Dejan Jakovic until after that game in Portland.
According to United, Honduras never responded to the May 29 request for Najar. Meantime, as it prepared to finalize the roster, the Honduras federation accused United of not answering its initial requests. United adamantly denied that.
“They can have Andy if they want him – it’s a FIFA rule – but we requested him” for the May 29 game, United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “We didn’t feel our request was out of line. We said, ‘Look, our season is going on right now, we have some big games coming up, can he meet you in L.A.?’ We sent two letters in writing [emails], we had two phone conversations -- there was never a response.”
On Thursday night “they sent an email basically saying that they decided that the coach doesn’t know Andy that much and is not confident calling him in at this time and they’ll call him in at a future time,” Kasper said.
Friday afternoon, a few hours before Honduras was to make the roster public, word began to circulate in Honduras that Najar might be back in the picture. But when Honduras put out the list late Friday afternoon, Najar wasn’t on it.
“We requested that he play in the Portland game. We didn’t say: ‘He’s playing in the Portland game.’ They can have Andy May 26th,” Kasper said. A few weeks ago, “We had a good conversation with their secretary general, just saying you have a great player now, congratulations, we’re going to be having these conversations a lot in the coming years, let’s work together for the best interests of everyone. So it was a little puzzling when he came out in the media and said we didn’t respond.”
Before committing to the Honduran program this spring, Najar considered waiting for U.S. citizenship, which would have made him eligible for the American squad. He left Honduras at age 13 and settled with his family in Northern Virginia, attended Edison High School and rose through United’s youth academy before signing a pro contract in early 2010. He was MLS’s rookie of the year last season and United’s co-leading scorer.
With several years standing in the way of eligibility for U.S. citizenship and family ties pulling him to play for his native country, Najar ended the speculation by announcing his allegiance to Honduras. Until he appears in an official Honduran match, he could change his mind and wait for the U.S. opportunity, although that seems unlikely. Through his mother’s family, he is also eligible to play for El Salvador but he has said he’s never seriously considered it.
“I hope going forward D.C. United and the Honduran federation can work something out that is in the best interests of Andy,” said Chris Megaloudis, Najar’s agent. “He was hoping and looking forward to playing after making a big decision about playing for Honduras. He’s disappointed, but he know he’s got a lot of years ahead of him to play in these types of games.”