Najar, 18, has lived in the United States for four years, raising hopes that he would someday play for the American program. However, he is still several years from being eligible for citizenship, which is required to play for a national team.
By pledging his alliance to Honduras, he is likely to receive a national team call-up for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a major regional championship to be played in the United States in June. He has also positioned himself for selection to the Under-20 World Cup in July and the 2012 Olympics, should Honduras qualify for those events.
“It was a decision that my heart told me,” he said through an interpreter following a news conference at RFK Stadium. “It came strictly from my heart.”
U.S. Soccer Federation officials were disappointed but not surprised by Najar’s decision.
Najar attended Edison High School in Alexandria and participated in United’s youth academy before turning pro early last year. Unknown outside the D.C. program, he took MLS by storm and was voted the league’s 2010 rookie of the year.
Honduran fans and soccer officials also took notice. By the middle of last season, Najar faced almost daily questioning about his international future. He declined to make a decision, citing his desire to first finish schoolwork with a tutor, complete a full pro season and prepare for the 2011 campaign.
“It was a distraction for me because that was a question I got asked constantly,” he said. “I was just waiting for the right moment to make the decision.”
With U.S. eligibility years away, there was, in essence, no other option but to commit to Honduras. (Through family heritage, Najar is also eligible to play for El Salvador, but said he never seriously considered it.)
Even if he had waited for U.S. citizenship, there were no guarantees he would break into the national program. Najar said he never spoke with U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley or U.S. under-20 coach Thomas Rongen about the possibility of representing the United States. However, sources close to the situation said the USSF did make its interest known.
Najar has a green card for permanent residency, but is early in the process for citizenship. If U.S. citizenship were within closer reach, would he have been torn?
“From the beginning, I was leaning toward Honduras,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been more difficult.”
With a limited player pool, Honduras is poised to utilize Najar as soon as possible. The Catrachos, as Hondurans are known, qualified for the World Cup last year in South Africa, ending a 28-year wait. However, in friendlies last month, they were beaten by South Korea, 4-0, and China, 3-0.
“If they call me, I am ready to represent Honduras in the Gold Cup,” he said. Although he said he hasn’t had any communication with the Honduran soccer federation, “obviously moving forward, I probably will.”
His Washington-based agent, Chris Megaloudis, did speak with Honduran officials this spring.
In the 12-team Gold Cup, Honduras is the Group B favorite, and by finishing first, it would play a June 19 quarterfinal in Washington.
If selected for the Honduran squad, Najar would probably miss three or four MLS matches. He would face a second extended absence if Honduras qualifies for the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia.
For United, Najar has had a quiet season and was dropped from the starting lineup before Sunday’s loss at Colorado.
“I’ve preached to Andy that this is going to be a difficult year for him,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “The second year, it’s not that easy. You’ve got expectations, you’ve got people wanting to kick the [heck] out of you. It’s important for him to still keep the passion and [do] all the little things that make him special. He knows it and he’s going to keep grinding through it.”