WASHINGTON – On a cold, windy day in the Nation’s Capital, D.C. United’s locker room was warmed by the presence of a not-so-old friend.
Andy Najar, D.C.’s former 19-year-old Homegrown player who last week was transferred to reigning Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht, was back in Washington and visited the team one day before they depart for Florida and the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic.
“It was good to see him. He can’t stop smiling,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “I don’t blame him. It’s a wonderful opportunity and we’re all excited. It’s bittersweet. It’s sad to see him go, but it’s a great opportunity for him and it’s a great opportunity for some of our guys to step up and fill that void that he’s going to leave.”
29 days 'til MLS: Young coaches have to catch up to Olsen
During Wednesday’s training session, Olsen continued to evaluate his defenders as United’s backline has a number of players who could step into the right back position. Among them, third-year Homegrown player Ethan White, who said he has been playing both center back and right back this preseason. White, Taylor Kemp, Chris Korb, Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard all are likely to complete for playing time at outside back.
“I think we just need to fill Andy’s void,” White said. “It’s a big void to fill, but somebody’s got to step up and play his position. Whether it’s me, Robbie, Korb, you never know, Nicky [DeLeon], anybody you put back there, they’ve got to do the job Andy did. We’re all professionals and we’ve got to step up.”
While Olsen admittedly was excited about the prospect of seeing how Najar could have progressed with his club playing a full season at right back, he also sees the transfer – the first for a Homegrown player in league history – as big progress for MLS.
“This is the business. Sometimes you’re reminded of that, that is it still a business and this happens and it’s going to happen more regularly in this league, as you see already,” Olsen said. “The more the talent’s coming through here, the more the eyes are on us from around the world and they’re going to start picking guys left and right. It’s just the business we’ve got to get used to.”
Another young defender for United, midfielder Perry Kitchen, seconded those thoughts.
“For me personally, it’s exciting to see these guys from MLS going over there,” Kitchen said. “That’s great for our league and it’s promising for other players that aspire to do that as well.”