Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
BALTIMORE — Andy Najar was playing in front of several members of his family and not far from the fields in Virginia where he spent many of his childhood years, so naturally, he scored the game-winning goal that pushed Honduras through to the Gold Cup semifinals.
Najar opened his international scoring account for Honduras on Sunday night, perfectly placing a header into the back of the net in the 48th minute of the Catrachos’ 1-0 victory over Costa Rica at M&T Bank Stadium. The clutch goal was a reminder and spoke volumes to how Najar has matured and improved as both a player and person since moving from D.C. United to Belgian club RSC Anderlecht this past January.
“Today, playing in Belgium with a youth side, without his family and being alone, it’s helped him a lot,” said Honduras head coach Luis Fernando Suarez. “That’s been obvious, not only in soccer, but in all other situations that present themselves while he is with the group. He is an introverted person but now he talks a lot more with the group and that he’s on a path.
“His future, at this moment, it seems he has no limit. This is good for us, this is good for the future of Honduras, as it’s what we’re looking to do,” Suarez said. “Sometimes it’s complicated to make people understand that qualification is not only important, but also the nurturing of our future for the days when we are not here.”
Najar is firmly entrenched in those plans for the future of Honduras and not just because he scored the winner against Costa Rica in a game played in front of a pro-Honduras crowd of 70,540. The 20-year old provides speed, technical ability and a youthful exuberance. Traits that have made him one of the more exciting young players to keep an eye on in CONCACAF.
All those traits were on display on Sunday, but his well-placed header three minutes after the intermission will be the biggest talking point, and with good reason. Najar made a perfectly-timed run to meet a great cross from fellow youngster Alexander Lopez and then beat a motionless Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton with a header that may be as good as we see in the Gold Cup.
“Thankfully I had the opportunity to score here at home,” said Najar. “It’s wonderful to come back and score a goal. It had been a while since I had had a chance to score a goal. Now, I need to continue to do things like this.”
Najar’s goal would have been special enough for him under normal circumstance, but it was made even more special his celebration. After nodding the ball home, Najar picked the ball out of the back of the net and placed it underneath his jersey to honor the upcoming birth of his next child.
“I dedicated the goal to my wife because a second baby is on its way, a boy,” said Najar. “It’s a beautiful moment and thankfully the coach counted on me today. Little by little, he’s brought me along and given me opportunities and today I was right there (to help the team).”
Up next for Najar? A date with the U.S. Men’s National Team in the Gold Cup semifinals in Dallas on Wednesday, a match that will not be played anywhere near where he grew up, but one that will still hold a little more significance than most for the blossoming Najar.
“It’s wonderful to play against the national team of the country where you developed as a soccer player,” said Najar. “Honestly, it’s a wonderful opportunity and that makes it very special for me.”