WASHINGTON — Last weekend, a magical moment from D.C. United midfielder Andy Najar looked to have locked up all three points against the Philadelphia Union.
The second-year midfielder received a pass from Dwayne De Rosario in a rather innocent position, just on the other side of the 50-yard line. He turned, nutmegged forward Danny Mwanga and sped into space, acres of the field opening up in front of him.
When no Philly defenders mounted a challenge, he took a rip from 35 yards out, and though goalie Faryd Mondragón got a hand to the ball, he could do nothing to keep the ball from continuing on into the bottom corner of the net.
"That's the first time I've scored from that far distance,” Najar said through an interpreter after the game. “I can't really believe that I was able to hit it from there and score."
Carlos Ruiz's late equalizer earned the Union a point on the road and took the sheen off a strike that, on another night, might have been the winner. But Najar’s strike is an indication of just how talented the reigning Rookie of the Year is right now — and what he is capable of as he continues to evolve into an electrifying player on United's right flank.
"I've asked him to give me what he had last weekend every week," DC head coach Ben Olsen said Thursday of Najar. "That's the next phase for him right now, is to be consistently, one of, if not the best player on the field week in, week out.
"That's a tough thing to do, but that's what I'm asking him to do for us — give us that energy going both ways, and put people on their heels going forward."
Olsen this week described the teenager's season as "up and down," and Najar admitted that he was not in peak condition at the start of preseason. Even after winning the MLS Rookie of the Year award last season, he fought to crack the starting lineup early on in 2011.
In three straight games in April, Najar had to enter the game coming from United's bench. Since May 4, however, he's become a fixture in the starting lineup and provided a nice complement to another rising talent, left midfielder Chris Pontius.
"It's always tough coming off a good year, people key in on you,” Pontius said. “I think [Najar]’s done well to figure out he's got to move off the ball a little bit more, and create space for himself."
And even though he couldn’t nab three points for the club on Saturday, it’s clear that the more times Najar can duplicate that kind of performance, the better off D.C. United will be.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.