D.C. United’s Andy Najar has Olympic hopes for Honduras
By Steven Goff,
In a month’s time, Andy Najar figures to wear Honduran blue at the London Olympics — the latest odyssey for a 19-year-old soccer player from a village tucked deep in the country’s southernmost region.
His affiliations, however, exceed nationality.
Najar is carrying the hopes of Alexandria’s Edison High, which he attended for 21 / 2 years before turning pro. He will represent both Washington area youth soccer, which facilitated his development upon arrival at age 13, and D.C. United, the club that plucked him for its youth academy and ultimately signed him to a pro contract in 2010.
Najar will also advertise Major League Soccer, which was left with scant ties to the Summer Games after the favored U.S. team failed to qualify.
“It means a lot to me,” he said through an interpreter. “There are a lot of players in my position who can’t be there. I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
Before turning his full attention to the Olympics, Najar will suit up for United (9-5-3) against the expansion Montreal Impact (5-9-3) on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. He is then scheduled to fly to Honduras on Monday for training camp. In all likelihood, he would miss three MLS matches before returning in early August.
Najar has battled the temptation to look ahead. “I am very calm right now,” he said this week. “I know the day is coming soon when I have to leave, but right now I am focused on United.”
Twenty-two players were invited to Honduras camp, four more than the Olympic limit. From all indications, though, Najar is very much in Coach Luis Fernando Suarez’s travel plans.
At the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, Najar’s pinpoint cross set up the winning goal in extra time against El Salvador and clinched an Olympic berth. He is among six invitees who play professionally outside of Honduras.
The Catrachos, who joined Mexico as the regional entrants in the 16-team tournament, will play Morocco, gold medal contender Spain and Japan in the group stage. Because of stadium and scheduling demands, Olympic soccer utilizes venues well beyond the host city. So Honduras will play in Glasgow, Newcastle and Coventry.
To most observers, the Catrachos have only an outside chance of securing one of the group’s two quarterfinal berths. Nonetheless, they’ll be closely watched back home and, to some extent, around MLS.
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza was also chosen for the Honduran squad. With David Beckham’s omission as an overage player for Britain’s team, the only other Olympic-bound MLS player is Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson (New Zealand).
United Coach Ben Olsen, a 2000 U.S. Olympian, said he plans to chat with Najar about the adventure before his departure.
“The message is to enjoy every moment,” Olsen said. “It’s cliche, but it’s such a cool experience. I look back on mine as one of the fondest memories I had as a player.”
The Olympics make memories, and in the case of soccer, can enhance a pro career. With the tournament geared toward players age 23 and under, it’s a showcase for rising stars and a marketplace for European clubs.
The second-youngest player on the Honduran roster, Najar is at a prime age to move overseas. He is a known commodity: After the 2011 MLS season, Najar trained for two weeks with Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.
A quality Olympic performance could lead to United fielding transfer offers later this year.
“You have a couple of good games there,” Olsen said, “and you can write your ticket.”
The Olympics would also offer an opportunity for Najar, the 2010 MLS rookie of the year, to rejuvenate his 2012 campaign. He began the season as a starter, but after missing time while at the Olympic qualifying tournament, he and Danny Cruz have split time on the right wing.
“I am excited for him,” said United midfielder Marcelo Saragosa, a Brazilian veteran who alternates driving responsibilities with Najar for the morning commute to RFK Stadium. “He is shy, so he doesn’t talk about it very much but he is very happy. It’s a big opportunity in a great tournament. We’re going to watch him. We want him to do well. We know he will.”
United note: D.C. acquired Long Tan, a 24-year-old, Chinese-born forward, from the Vancouver Whitecaps for a first-round pick in the 2015 supplemental draft.