WASHINGTON – When Andy Najar left D.C. United to join up with the Honduran U-23 team for Olympic qualifying, few expected that the former Rookie of the Year’s role as the regular right winger for the Capital Club would be in jeopardy.
And yet, when he returned from the Catrachos’ successful qualifying campaign, the 19-year-old found his former spot reserved. Superb performances by rookie Nick DeLeon and United newcomer Danny Cruz had crowded the right midfielder position, and Najar was relegated to a few appearances as a sub.
In last Wednesday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes, Najar once again came on as a sub – at right back.
"The first few minutes were weird because I hadn't played there in a while," Najar told MLSsoccer.com. "It was a surprise [to play right back] against San Jose. But after the five, 10 minutes I just decided I focus on defense, and everything started flowing."
Though fans have grown accustomed to seeing Najar’s energy and flair in the attacking third, the move to the backline did not come totally out of left field. When the Honduran was making his way through the D.C. United Academy system, he appeared almost exclusively as a right back before signing with the first team and moving into midfield.
"It is not a relearning process," Najar said. "I have some experience and ideas about the position, so I just need to play."
After the San Jose cameo, Najar started the next game against Toronto at right back. Although he showed some nervous moments against the Reds, the reactions to Najar’s performance were generally positive, which might mean more appearances in defense to come.
Head coach Ben Olsen was quick to point out that if Najar continued at right back, there would be a leaning curve that Najar would have to adjust to in order to excel at the position.
"[Najar] still has a lot to learn at that position," Olsen told reporters this week. "You see things that against a better team might cost us. Just as far as his positioning, and not knowing the position, he did a lot of great things."
The question becomes whether or not the Houston Dynamo – who United face on Saturday (4:30 pm ET, NBC Sports, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com) – constitute a good enough opponent that Olsen would want to discontinue the Najar experiment, and with seven days of rest under his belt, Robbie Russell might be able to slide back at right back.
If not, though, then the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year may just have found his ticket back into the Starting XI.