Andy Najar's jump from D.C. United to Europe was inevitable. But the timing of the 19-year-old Honduran's $3 million transfer to RSC Anderlecht in Belgium won't soon be forgotten. It comes during a landmark offseason for Major League Soccer.
Najar isn't the only young, rising MLS star to make the jump to a bigger stage in Europe. English Premier League side Stoke City just paid $4 million for 22-year-old FC Dallas winger Brek Shea five months after signing 27-year-old Geoff Cameron from Houston for $3 million. Kei Kamara, 28, is headed to Norwich City on loan.
All four of these players have immediate value to MLS, which owns all of its player contracts. But the league's willingness to reach transfer deals is an investment in the future.
MLS desperately desires to be a destination league for the world's greatest players. It has a better chance in the short term to be the preferred starting point for America's best young players -- the kind who might otherwise cultivate their talents in lower European leagues instead of refining their game and building a following in the United States. The more success players have abroad, the more credit to MLS.
With Najar, D.C. United is at the forefront, and it will be in the market again soon with homegrown goalkeeper Bill Hamid. There's also more talent on the way, like Jalen Robinson and Collin Martin, both freshmen at Wake Forest. They now can envision Najar's path as potentially their own: a stepping stone, not an obstacle, on the way to their fulfilling their playing aspirations.
- Craig Stouffer