WASHINGTON – At just 21 years of age, Andy Najar has done more than many soccer players do in a lifetime.
The former D.C. United standout took a familiar walk on Thursday night, strolling down the cinderblock hallways of RFK Stadium, past walls lined with pictures of former teammates and club legends, up a red-carpeted stairway and onto the pitch.
He did it, of course, wearing a Honduras jersey, a far cry from the black and red kit he donned during three successful years at United.
"I’m happy to be back,” Najar told MLSsoccer.com after Honduras’ 2-0 loss to Turkey on Thursday evening. "Honestly, I barely have words. This was the place that I learned to really play at, and those lessons have helped me tremendously in Europe.
"To think that I’ve gone from [MLS] to Europe and that now I’ll be wearing my country’s jersey in the World Cup; I’m just so thankful for everything and just want to show well in Brazil."
In a span of five years, Najar (above, right) has gone from a shy, mild-mannered member of D.C. United’s youth academy to a potential World Cup starter. He stands as the only product of MLS’ Homegrown system to be purchased by a European club, having drawn a hefty sum from Belgian side RSC Anderlecht, whom Najar has helped guide to consecutive league titles and Champions League berths.
During Honduras’ qualifying run, Najar thrust himself into the picture with his national side, using the same crafty footwork and pacy runs he did at United to work his way into a starting spot. Najar appeared in five games for Honduras during the CONCACAF Hexagonal and opened his international account with a goal against Costa Rica in the 2013 Gold Cup.
It is a list of accomplishments that would push many young players towards irresponsibility and failure. Najar, however, seems as humble as ever.
"Europe has helped me mature,” said Najar. "I’ve just continued to grow little by little. The first few months I was there were pretty hard, but I pushed through that and things have been great since then. I don’t really think there’s much of a difference, technically – I think MLS prepared me quite well for Europe – the quality of play in the US has improved greatly over the years and I think it’s at least on par with a lot of European leagues.”
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Najar, who extended his contract with Anderlecht through 2018 in late April, will have a chance to add to his resume even more when Los Catrachos face Ecuador, Switzerland and France in Brazil. And though he speaks with a youthful optimism about his team's chances – earlier in the week he talked of “dreaming of the final” – Andy Najar will not soon forget his roots.
"I will always remember D.C. United,” Najar reminisced. "They took a chance on me and I will never forget that; I will never forget the fans or the team, you always remember your first club. I guess it’s pretty impressive as young as I am, that within four or five years I’ve been able to achieve all of this.
"Honestly, like I said, I have no words. I can’t complain about anything. I’m just grateful for all of this."