D.C. United lost for the fifth time at home in eight matches last Saturday, falling 3-1 to Nashville. Despite the result, one positive take away was winger Andy Najar playing his first complete game since March 12, D.C.’s second game of the season.
The former academy graduate missed the last two months with a hamstring injury — the first setback for Najar since returning to the Black and Red last season following seven seasons in Europe and a stint with LAFC.
After Najar battled multiple injuries for several seasons, United took a chance on the Honduran player and signed him to a one-year deal with a team option for two more.
He became one of the surprising revelations of the 2021 season, becoming a regular starter under former head coach Hernán Losada. He started 23 matches, scored once and added three assists.
When asked about his return on Saturday, interim head coach Chad Ashton called Najar “a super dangerous guy,” noting his ability to play several positions defensively and offensively.
“He was out for a significant amount of time, so for him to get through 90 minutes and continue to grow his fitness and hopefully, move towards — knock on wood — not seeing any more injuries,” Ashton said.
Against Nashville, Najar could be seen being active on both sides of the field. While the lineup sheet listed him as a center back, he continued to push the ball forward for D.C., attempting to create attacks using his speed and ball dribbling.
However, one moment in his return garnered extra attention. Ten minutes into the game, with United down a goal, Najar received a header pass from Taxi Fountas between two defenders, leaving him alone with goalkeeper Joe Willis.
He whiffed his attempt and fell to the ground as the ball rolled out of bounds.
Najar told WTOP he was fouled on the play.
“I felt the defender slide tackle me from behind,” Najar said in Spanish. “I felt the tackle, and I lost my balance. I had no chance whatsoever to recover the ball. But for me, yes, that was a penalty. However, the call was not made, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Happens to the best of of us 😅 pic.twitter.com/8nAmoP6stV
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 25, 2022
After the game, Najar spoke to members of the Spanish-speaking press about the result, his return to the pitch and his thoughts on United’s performance so far this season.
Editor’s note: This story was translated, reorganized and edited for clarity.
- Q: How did it feel to get back on the field following the hamstring injury?
“Very good. Thanks to god, I returned back after eight weeks of being out.
“It hurt watching the results from afar and seeing the team struggle. All I can do is work on the minor details and help when I can. That starts with getting back to training.”
- Q: What are your overall thoughts on the 3-1 loss against Nashville?
“It is sad really. It is a result that we weren’t expecting. Not much to say to be honest.
“It is not what we expected but this is soccer. Soccer gives us a chance to bounce back so we have to get ready for the next game.”
- Q: Interim head coach Chad Ashton said you can play multiple positions up front and defensively. For Nashville, what was the strategy for you and your positioning on the field?
“Coach always gives me the liberty to play various positions. I am one of the few players on the team that has a free role to go up into the attack.
“Sometimes, it goes well and other times, it doesn’t. Regardless, we have to keep continue working harder to get better.”
- Q: How impactful was Nashville's early goal in the first 10 minutes of the first half?
“It was a fast goal, an early goal. I think our performance dropped immediately; to start a game like that is not what a team expects.
“However, those things happen in our sport, so we need to work on that. We need to not lose our concentration and keep fighting because the game is not over in the first 10 minutes. It is  minutes. Hopefully, with more effort, we are rewarded in the next game.”
- Q: As one of the veteran leaders on the team, what do you say to your younger or newer teammates to keep them motivated during this tough stretch of the season?
“We just have to focus on the way we did it last year. We have several guys who were here last season and I think we have quality and we have a talented group to do something good like we did last year.
“Right now, we are missing that little bit of extra desire to play better on the field. Hopefully, little by little, we will be back to our form, and if it is not too late, we are able to complete our goals for this year.”