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Honduras or U.S.? D.C. United teen Najar gets to choose

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andy_najar_d.c._united_0.jpg By Joseph White
July 25, 2010


Washington, DC — In the nation’s capital, he’s a shy 17-year-old who misses hanging out with friends at high school. In Central America, he’s fast becoming the subject of an angst-ridden potential tug of war between Honduras and the United States.

Andy Najar is D.C. United’s latest teen sensation, the lone bright spot on the worst team in MLS. The rookie midfielder who came up through the club’s youth academy leads United with three goals in league play and has earned the catchy nickname “Pequeno Guerrero”—or “Little Warrior”—from coach Kurt Onalfo.

“The thing that was really revealing to me was with each minute he played in preseason, he got stronger and stronger,” Onalfo said. “I remember turning to my assistant coach and saying, ‘This kid is special.’ Honestly I felt he could contribute later in the season, so it’s happened quicker than I imagined.”

United has a checkered history with young sensations, from Bobby Convey to Santino Quaranta to Freddy Adu. All have persevered through various ups and downs, but none have turned out to be the next great name leading U.S. soccer to victories at the World Cup.

Could Najar be a candidate? Well, there’s a catch. He was born in Honduras but has a green card in the U.S. and will eventually be eligible for citizenship. It’ll be his choice whose colors he wears on the international level.

Hence the concern back in Tegucigalpa. The Hondurans don’t want to lose Najar to the Americans.

“The Gringos are near to taking away our treasure,” splashed a recent headline under Najar’s photo in the newspaper Diez. Several Honduran reporters are expected for Saturday’s exhibition game between United and English club Portsmouth, all no doubt interested in pinning Najar on his preferred national team choice.

It’s a fuss Najar could do without. The last few months have already been a whirlwind. It’s a challenge enough just to adjust to life in MLS, where veterans like to joke around with him by hiding his belongings.

“It’s my first year. I’m young,” he said Friday through a translator. “I’m not ready to make that decision.”

Besides, there’s no need to rush. Eleven MLS starts is not nearly a large enough sample size to determine whether he is national team material for either country, even at the youth level. The World Cup just ended, so there’s a lull before the next cycle of international competitions.

Najar came to the area four years ago to join his parents, who were seeking a better life in the U.S. His father is a painter, and Najar was a student at Edison High School in Alexandria, Va., before his rapid rise with United. He understands English but prefers to conduct interviews in Spanish and will work with a tutor to complete the work for his high school diploma, a requirement stipulated in his contract with United.

“I miss my classmates a lot,” he said.

Most of his answers are short and humble. He speaks of how anything is possible through hard work, and that his dream is to play for a European club.

“My message to him is to worry about D.C. United,” Onalfo said. “If you talk to Andy, he’s a very grounded guy, doesn’t say much. He’s not thinking too much about anything else.”

Onalfo delivers the same message to Najar when the Honduras-U.S. debate comes up.

“Let those other things work themselves out, if they are potential opportunities,” Onalfo said. “Right now, it’s just talk.”

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