WASHINGTON – Following D.C. United’s methodical 4-2 victory against Chicago on Wednesday night, defender Brandon McDonald took it upon himself to announce the club’s newest signing in a jovial locker room.
“I’d like to welcome our new player, Cafu, to our team,” McDonald joked. “I don’t know where he came from, but it’s unbelievable to watch him move out there.”
And while comparisons to the Brazilian superstar are obviously premature, United right back Andy Najar (above) was nothing short of sensational on a slick pitch at RFK Stadium.
The Honduran’s overlapping runs, pristine crosses and smart decisions did, at times, resemble an experienced outside defender of the highest quality. Not a 19-year-old Homegrown player who has played midfield for a majority of the season.
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“I feel calm. The coaches have given me confidence to play in that position. That has given me a lot of easiness,” Najar said through a translator.
Started at right back by United coach Ben Olsen for the first time since Najar’s return from the Olympics, the youngster completed 33 of his 44 passes and played the ball from end line to end line along the right side.
Consider the streaking run he made through Chicago’s central defense in the first half that sputtered only after he was triple-teamed. Or the cheeky play with midfielder Nick DeLeon to clear the ball from trouble deep in the right corner. And the pristine cross to set up Lionard Pajoy’s first goal with D.C. and give United a 2-1 lead at the half.
“In the Academy, I played that position, so I’m familiar with it,” Najar said. “Overall, I need to learn how to defend better, but little by little it’s coming.”
Najar was shifted to the backfield because of Emiliano Dudar’s suspension from the red card he received at the end of Sunday’s match against Philadelphia. He may not move again.
“Based on the performance today, I played very well and I’d like to keep playing right back.” Najar said.
When Olsen was asked if now, after Wednesday’s performance, Najar is a consistent back-line option and not just a stopgap, he nodded enthusiastically.
“He has these unique qualities in this league. I think they lend themselves to the modern right back,” Olsen said. “You look at soccer now and the outside backs have the ball so much. They have to be good on it, they have to be dynamic, they have to be great engines to get up and back and they have to be brave in defending.”
Najar certainly was all those on a night where D.C. quickly turned the page on a difficult result against Philadelphia and remained in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
As for McDonald’s Cafu comparison?
“Brandon thinks that I play well at right back. For a while now, he’s always told me that my natural position should be right back,” Najar said. “But no one really pays attention to Brandon.”