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Andy Najar's path to D.C. United and MLS

In this story that will appear in Wednesday's print editions, Post colleague Paul Tenorio takes a closer look at D.C. United's signing of 17-year-old midfielder Andy Najar and why, unlike athletes in other sports, soccer players are willing and able to jump to the professional level.

By Steve Goff  |  April 13, 2010; 5:23 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United , MLS , Preps , Youth soccer  | Tags: Andy Najar, D.C. United, Freddy Adu, MLS, Major League Soccer, Wayne Rooney, soccer  
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I still think you have to go to college before you play professional sports. Just one mans opinion.

Posted by: TheJim1 | April 13, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

As I wrote in last thread -- I totally get the desire to get the degree, but I wonder if there isn't a third way for some pro prospects.

One thing missing from this article is what a reserve system might do for some of these players. Guys like Zinkhan and Arjona might have another option -- not sure whether it could be worked with NCAA rules. MLS doesn't have a minor leagues right now, which precludes them from doing something like what the Nats did with Jack McGeary.

McGeary was a highly coveted pitcher coming out of high school, except he'd committed to going to Stanford. It was absolutely clear that he'd decided to parlay his talent into an education and degree from one of the nation's top schools. So, the Nats came up with a brilliant offer, after they drafted him. He went in the sixth round, even though he was a first round talent. The Nats gave him a first round signing bonus and made an exception for him that allowed him to remain at Stanford during the school year. He joined the Nats over break for spring training, and he pitched for lower level summer development league teams. He's just about done with his degree now, I think -- accelerated -- and now he's in their full-season minor league system catching up with others drafted at the same time.

Perhaps, MLS could use a reserve system to give Academy players more intensive experience during the summer -- perhaps even in a way that wouldn't compromise players' amateur status. McGeary lost his amateur status, but I wonder if the Academy system could be tweaked to maintain amateur status -- playing with professionals in a reserve league for a couple of months, but not as a professional. A bit like what Duka did with the Red Bulls, playing for their Academy team in his summers away from Rutgers -- except playing at a higher level with professionals. There will be players who aren't as MLS-ready as Najar, but this would allow teams to continue to participate in their development and still control their MLS rights (until and unless the players decide to enter the draft).

Posted by: fischy | April 13, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

My opinion is that typically the economically rational decision for a US-raised player is to parlay soccer talent into the best college education possible. But in this kid's case, based on the Post reporting, it would seem that he could use a few more years here to earn a few bucks and increase his proficiency with English. Who knows, maybe he grabs the brass ring in Europe.

Posted by: OWNTF | April 13, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

One example of what's missing: Michael Funes. I"m pretty sure he graduated from Magruder High last year -- the DCU site lists 2009 as his graduation year.

He scored a hat trick this weekend against Seacoast United. This suggests he needs stiffer competition, but he hasn't moved on to college, for whatever reason. I would assume he's not good enough right now for DCU to carve out a roster spot for him. A reserve system would give him a place to play with other candidates -- and maybe earn some money. It seems to me that the reserve league could also accommodate NCAA players from the Academy system, like Arjona (W.Va.) and Ethan White (UMd.). Having some amateurs on the squads would also make a reserve league more financially appealing for the MLS teams.

Posted by: fischy | April 13, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Steve/Paul: Why no mention of baseball in the story? Are the Nats not looking seriously at drafting a promising SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD catcher in the upcoming MLB draft who graduated from high school a year early in order to play for a Junior College and accelerate his draft status? How does baseball fit into your story's premise?

Posted by: Juan-John1 | April 13, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

The NCAA, in it's current form, is not good for a lot of sports. If they could start again, without Men's BB and Football, and all the rules put in place to curb those sports' abuses, it could still have a valid role in our sporting landscape.

As it stands now, the sooner it implodes the better.

Posted by: JkR- | April 13, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Hey Steve and Paul, I hope you guys can dig up a pic of Najar himself for the print edition. I was about to share the story on facebook, but when the only pic available to share with the story is of Adu in a DCU jersey I opted not to. It just wouldn't look right and is confusing to the average joe.

Posted by: DadRyan | April 13, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Go to college to get a good job and make money. But if you get a chance to make decent money and get a chance at even a 10-year, potentially lucrative career, before you enter college, what do you do? Turn it down? Besides, how many college grads are working nelow their level of education or just plain unemployed because of the economy?

Isn't there a "college" team, i.e. a team of players who attend tha same college, that plays in the PDL instead of the NCAA?

And since no-one wrote it yet, the NCAA are a bunch of greedy jerks who don't care about education or the lives of their "student-" athletes (except for the huge stars). If there ever was a case for a union in sports, the college football and basketball players have one.

Disclaimer: I haven;t read the article yet, I'm just responding, in a knee-jerk manner, to what's been posted.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | April 13, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I still think you have to go to college before you play professional sports. Just one mans opinion.

Posted by: TheJim1

Didn't Whitlock have an article on this? Or something similar. I definitely agreed with him (first time ever and probably last). Have colleges offer a degree in professional sports, just like they offer them in art, music, drama etc. Teach $ management, PR skills, how to hire support staff, etc. in addition to sports skills and make a degree or certification a requirement for the job just like you need a degree and/or certification to be an accountant, engineer or doctor. Satisfies the sports people and the education people.

Oh, and didn't a high school basketball player just skip his senior year of HS to go play in Europe like following that guy who skipped college to go play in Greece?

Posted by: Brian76 | April 13, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

1. "nelow" = "below"
2. BYU Cougars men's team plays in the PDL
3. I read the article. Nice work Paul.
4. They Freddy Adu picture is part of the problem wherein people, who learn that I'm a soccer fan, ask me about "that African kid."
5. Did I use "wherein" correctly?

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | April 13, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

that's what I'm saying. Change the picture.

Posted by: DadRyan | April 13, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

The kid stays in the picture.

Posted by: fischy | April 13, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

ICE iced the Red Bulls. Bulls were trying to acquire Luke Rodgers, a striker Backe used to coach at Notts County. His work permit app was denied because of a conviction for fighting in public. Good thing that hockey fights aren't considered prosecutable -- otherwise, the NHL cupboards would be bare.

Posted by: fischy | April 13, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

MLS needs a development system or alignment with one of the other Pro-Leagues to give kids like Najar a chance to develop and play a ton of futbol.
He is not ready for MLS yet that is obvious but DCU needs to keep him engaged and moving forward so they really have no other option.
I still can't believe Onalfo needs Najar in a central midfield role this early in the season - what a mess.
Kasper & Payne need to be held accountable for this Div. 2 team they have assembled.
Thousands of athletes around the globe opt for a professional opportunity ahead of university & thousands of kids go to college and drop out after a year. You can't legislate this - its just so case by case... And whatever is done keep the NCAA as far away as possible

Posted by: Zipfutbol | April 13, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Here's my joke about that -- It's too bad for the Red Bulls that they aren't still playing in Giants Stadium. If they were, they probably could have sneaked Rodgers into the country and played him in games there, without anyone noticing...literally. Maybe, there's still time for Dallas to bring him in across the Rio Grande via coyote.

Posted by: fischy | April 13, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

funny fischy, but seriously put a pic of the kid you wrote the story about in there...

Posted by: DadRyan | April 13, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

"He is not ready for MLS yet that is obvious"

Says who? You'll eat those words, my friend. Najar's got serious skills. He may be 17, but he's already a better soccer player than half the team.

Posted by: fischy | April 13, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

270, you haven't been fired yet? Time to ramp up Al Gore's internet and get going. You don't deserve the U-8's.

Posted by: delantero | April 13, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

I just inherited my gf's boy's U8 team. I guess as a co-coach. Time to check the internet for some good, age-appropriate drills. I'm with Claudio Reyna on this one. Drill, drill, drill. Scrimmages take a back seat.

Posted by: fischy | April 13, 2010 11:37 PM | Report abuse

college players already have options to play at a high level durring the summers.
There are two leagues basically designed for college players home for summers. One is the Super 20 league, which is part of the USL super Y league. It is a high level summer league for regional teams. DCU will be fielding a Super 20 team this summer. Games start in mid may and run until late July. The other is the PDL (professional development league) also run by USL. It is a U-23 league, so there are undergrads and non college players. This league also runs from mid may to late july. Some of the teams are better than others but many MLS and USL teams also sponsor Super 20 teams, and are coached by members of the teams staff. plaing on these teams does not affect a players NCAA eligability.

Posted by: jjfooty | April 13, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

On a positive note about Najar, at least he doesn't have to play for Peter Angelos.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | April 13, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

@jjfooty -- Sounds great. A worthwhile reminder. Glad to hear United will be fielding a Super-20 team. I guess Funes will get in some games there. Not quite the level I had in mind, with a reserve league that would be stocked with trialists and young draft picks needing competition -- but, better than nothing.

Posted by: fischy | April 14, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Is help on the way this summer? MLS has taken the unusual step of confirming that a club is close to a deal for Villareal's Robert Pires. The logical choice would be NYRB, but MLS actually said the club is not New York. That leaves me with DC, Chicago, Seattle or TFC, but ya never know. Supposedly, Villa was even ready to let him go before the April 15 deadline, but his agent says that's probably too soon for Pires. Didn't Chang hint they were talking with someone a few weeks ago...?

This move might even free up a spot for Jozy with Villareal...

Posted by: fischy | April 14, 2010 1:44 AM | Report abuse

Go pro as soon as you think that you are ready...just get good advice to make sure that you are actually ready.

One can always go to college later.

A buddy of mine was a pro snowboarder for 5 years after high school...quit when he didn't make it big and returned to school.

He now works for Shell oil company..high level finance....he has no regrets.

Posted by: matthewjfyoungs | April 14, 2010 6:36 AM | Report abuse

Just to toss my two cents in...

College is for an education. The fact that football and basketball have turned it into a farm league (and the institutions have whole-heartedly participated) offends my hoity-toity sensibilities of what a college or university is all about.

And Fischy, the one lesson that I was given in my coaching license courses that stuck was "let the game be the teacher." Obviously you'll do what you think is right, but I'd focus on making sure the kids are having fun with the ball at their feet, which generally means making your drills into games. NO KIDS STANDING IN LINE OR DRIBBLING AROUND CONES--that was my coaching motto.

Posted by: glfrazier | April 14, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

So...MLS Strikes Backe?

Posted by: Reignking | April 14, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm with matthewjfyoungs on this one. It doesn't happen every day, but I always get a chuckle when I see Jason Lee in movies and on television (My Name is Earl). He dropped out of high school to go pro in skateboarding, and now look at him! You can always go back to school, right?

Posted by: DadRyan | April 14, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I coach a u-8 team too. Perhaps we should get a tournament going, complete with a beer sponsor. I'm thinking Shock Top so the kids could eat the orange slices.

Posted by: troy6 | April 14, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

oh, and Kobe and LeBron are pretty good examples of teenagers in basketball turning pro. as far as I can tell, american football is the only sport where teenagers DON'T turn pro. but don't let any facts turn you away from your premise, paul. ;-)

Posted by: troy6 | April 14, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

The parents of my Godson are facing this dilemma. He is already playing U-18's at Millionarios (he's 16) and being considered for the Columbian National U-17 Team and has had interest from the US program in Bradenton. We've had many, many discussions about this. My view is he can always go to college if he doesn't make it in the pros by the time he's 24, but he can't go back to the development (physcial, mental, experience playing agaisnt the first team in training) he's getting at a professional club if he doesn't make it on Wall Street by 24.

(Of course I am speaking as someone whose earinng power from a "learned profession" could be outstripped by the most junior of players in a big league. Note to self: take courses in Sports Law.)

Posted by: BlackandRedRedDevil | April 14, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I haven't been fired as the u8 coach because no-one wants the job. Most of the parents are happy to let someone else deal with their kids for a couple of hours each week. They won't trade that for all the glory.

@fischy. I'm using the following resources:
Soccer Practice Games, Joe Luxbacher
Survival Guide of Coaching Youth Soccer, Lindsey and Tim Blom
The Baffled Parent's Guide to Coaching Youth Soccer, Bobby Clark
The BPG to Great Soccer Drills, Tom Fleck and Ron Quinn.

For books that I eliminated, read this self-promotion.

+1 to glfraizer. Also, the U8s enjoy scrimmaging and it gives you a chance to yell "Don't bunch up." for 15 minutes. I put it at the end of the practice, if they are good listeners. We didn't have a scrimmage last week.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | April 14, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

From a now retired U9/U10 coach...another 2 cents' worth. There are also some good basic seminars run by MSI and others out there. I eventually did the E license (definitely worth it). Rather than full scrimmages, try 3v3 or 4v4 on a very small field with multiple goals. Tons of touches for everyone, increases alertness - anyone can score at almost any time. I liked to break my team into three groups (of 3 or 4 depending on how many showed up for practice) with two playing this game while the other worked with me on ball striking or other simple skills. Rotate, keep everyone moving, get everyone maximum touches. That was my approach, developed over time. Initially I was very badly organized and had no clue and there was way too much standing in line as a big group.

Posted by: assocfoot | April 14, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Young players have a hard time succeeding in the MLS because the quality around them is thin and slim. Great players have top talent around them...that is missing throughout the MLS.

Posted by: juke2 | April 14, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

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