The Kids Aren’t All Right

His story feels like a movie.

Andy Najar moved to the United States from Honduras at the age of 13. He was turned down for being too small by the D.C. youth academy that same year.  In a stroke of big-screen type luck, the assistant coach for his  high school spotted him playing a pick-up game, and Najar immediately found himself on the high school team. A year of organized soccer later and he made the cut at D.C. United. Fastfoward to 2010 and at 17 he may now be their best player.

Najar’s rise from obscurity to a poster boy for the MLS academies has been rapid and has even caught the attention of bigger fish across the sea with rumors that Arsenal want him for a trial at the end of the MLS season appearing.

He’s quick, good on the ball and incredibly aggressive when given the opportunity by defenders. He’s not the finished product, though. Najar hasn’t been the best making choices in the final third, but that’s not something that should be expected out of a 17 year old, especially one with limited organized play. Not to mention D.C. are pretty lackluster in the final third as it is. What makes Najar extra special is his effort to chase down lost causes and track back to help out defensively. I can’t think of too many young hot-shots that put in as hard a shift as Najar does on a week-to-week basis.

D.C. United  have a history of being involved with the brightest and most hyped young players in the MLS. Santino Quaranta, Bobby Convey, and Freddy Adu all were given their first shots with the club and none have reached the potential many expected from them.  Now it’ll be United’s task to prevent Najar from going down the same paths as the others.

D.C. broke the record for youngest MLS player three times with the signings of Convey(2000), Quaranta(2001), and Adu(2004). When Convey and Quaranta were operating on opposite wings for D.C. it looked as if the future flanks of the US National Team were confirmed for the next decade. But due to various issues(Convey- injuries, attitude, Quaranta – injuries, drugs) their careers never hit the heights that was expected. They still have time left as both are in the their mid-20s, but it will be a large up-hill battle to eliminate the “what-ifs” that will most likely surround their careers.

But D.C. isn’t the one to blame. They aren’t responsible for Eddie Gaven, Danny Szetela and Justin Mapp. While Gaven has had a respectable career in the MLS, all three had similar hype as Quaranta and Convey coming in to the league. The MLS as a whole has struggled to develop these young kids labeled as future stars. It raises the question on whether the league is suited for youth development or if it’s still very much a “link-league” to Europe. I think the MLS right now is a fantastic place for college players to come and get a crash course on the professional level, but until the league can prove it can develop so-called domestic wonder kids, I’ll favor giving these players a chance overseas if given the opportunity.

Every year more and more young players with massive potential are appearing  in the MLS.  Luis Gil and Jack McInerney are just two of the latest. While Najar will most likely play for Honduras in his future, for the future of the national team it’s incredibly important that the nurturing and developing of these special talents is improved so players like Gil and McInerney aren’t stunted. If that can happen in the MLS, I would be ecstatic, I’m just not sure it’s ready for it yet, based on the league’s track record.

The MLS need a win here. If Najar can continue to progress it would be a win for the too often overlooked immigrate population by the national team development program. It would be a big win for the MLS and its’ youth academies, and it would be a major win for the national team he chooses. I have my fingers crossed for his future, and any fan of the domestic game should do the same.

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