24 Under 24: How Najar nearly fell through the cracks

24 Under 24: Andy Najar

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When D.C. United's Andy Najar moved from his native Honduras to the United States with his family a mere five years ago, playing professional soccer was the last thing on his mind.

It was a move spurred on by the desire to have a better life.

“I came to this country like any other immigrant, ready to study and work for a better future and that’s what I tried to do when I started high school,” Najar told MLSsoccer.com.

It’s what makes Najar’s story — including his rise to the senior ranks of the Honduran national team — the stuff of fairytales. Especially when you consider that he nearly fell through the cracks entirely.

Today, Najar may be the subject of soccer discussion surrounding the Catrachos in Honduras, but he went unnoticed in his own country as a kid.

He grew up in a tiny town called Santa Cruz de Choluteca, where he never played organized soccer. Najar and his younger brothers learned to play on the streets and accompanied their dad, Wilson, to his practice sessions with the hometown team — Broncos de Choluteca — which played in the Honduran second division.

24 Under 24: Andy Najar
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“I started playing at three years old because my dad played professional soccer and I obviously wanted to be just like him,” Najar said. “As a kid, I practiced a lot and it was my dad who taught me everything I learned in those first years in the sport. The one thing I remember is that since I was five, I dreamed of being a pro player.”

He may have harbored the dream, but no one was looking in Santa Cruz de Choluteca for the next Honduran star. First-division scouts bypassed the town entirely.

“There was one time that a gentleman who arrived in Santa Cruz from the capital Tegucigalpa offered to take me and my brothers to the big city to participate in a tournament when I was 12,” Najar said. “But when we got there, one of my brothers and I couldn’t play because we were over age. Only my youngest brother played.”

It was the only time he was able to get out of his village. That is, until his family picked up and left for the United States a year later.

The soccer he played in Virginia consisted of pick-up games with his father and his co-workers. And it was at one of those games that a local reporter — Colombian journalist Edgar Enciso, who did broadcast work for D.C. United — spotted Najar.

Word got to United legend Marco Etcheverry, who was one of the coaches that oversaw the MLS club’s youth programs at the time, and he was the first coach to take a look at him. According to Enciso, Etcheverry said that Najar had “some exceptional qualities.”

And like that, things started falling perfectly for Najar.

A few months later, a 15-year-old Najar was called back to be part of the DC Under-16 side, which had just been established under another ex-MLS player, John Maessner. Najar went on to become one of the most heralded players in United’s academy program.

“Thank god I had the opportunity to be part of that tryout at 15, and I was lucky that D.C. United gave me the chance to stay with the Under-16 academy team,” Najar said.

He was a best XI selection in the 2009 US Soccer Development Academy and D.C. United’s Under-16 Player of the Year before they moved him up to the Under-18 squad, where he scored eight goals. It was not long before he was the highest-rated youth player in the country.

United moved quickly and signed him to a Generation adidas contract. After a single preseason with the club, he became a regular starter at 17, MLS Rookie of the Year and D.C. United Player of the Year. His standing hasn’t changed much in his sophomore season, except for the fact that he’s now been capped twice for the Honduran senior side.

Najar is the idol of the local Honduran fan base and one of the most talked about players back home. All in just five years. But he says the fame and honors have done little to change him.

“I’m still the same humble kid who came from Honduras,” he said.