WASHINGTON – Hands stuffed in the pockets of his dark gray jeans, MLS Rookie of the Year Andy Najar slowly read a statement in Spanish to announce Tuesday that he wants to play international soccer for Honduras — and not his new home, the United States.
"It was a decision that my heart told me," the 18-year-old D.C. United midfielder said, according to the translation provided by a team employee. "It came strictly from my heart."
Born in Honduras, Najar moved to the U.S. when he was 13. He went to high school in Virginia, has a green card and eventually will be eligible for U.S. citizenship.
The hardest part, Najar said, wasn't so much which country to choose but when to announce he'd made up his mind.
"From the beginning," he said at a news conference at RFK Stadium, the home of United, "I was leaning toward Honduras."
Najar (pronounced nah-HAR) listed three reasons for waiting to let everyone know:
— he wanted to finish his high school studies, and that'll happen only weeks from now;
— he wanted to play a full season with United, "to know if I was ready, physically and mentally";
— he wanted to focus during this MLS preseason on earning a spot in the starting lineup.
"A lot has happened for the kid in a short amount of time, so I think he needed to focus on a full year of D.C. United," general manager Dave Kasper said.
Najar had five goals and one assist in 26 MLS games with United last season, when he became the youngest player to win MLS rookie honors and the first to come directly from the youth academy level. United signed him from their youth ranks in March 2010.
He's started two of United's three games in their 1-2 start this season.
"One thing I've noticed this year is he's a lot more outgoing with his teammates. He's cracking jokes," Kasper said. "I think he's more comfortable to do that now, now that he's got a full year under his belt."
The U.S. team is stocked with midfielders at the moment, and Honduras made it a national point of pride to have Najar wear its national jersey.
While he said he didn't feel pressure from Honduran fans, Najar did acknowledge that the many "Honduras or U.S.?" questions he fielded became a distraction.
Najar said he didn't ask other players for advice, instead seeking counsel only from "the most important people in my life," his parents.
Not surprisingly, Tuesday's announcement was lauded in his country of birth.
"We're very happy with Najar's decision," Honduras soccer federation secretary Alfredo Hawit told The Associated Press. "Each player has a duty to defend his country's colors and, by playing with our national team, we expect Najar to give his life on the field, along with his teammates."
While the next World Cup isn't until 2014, Najar was asked whether he'll play in June's Gold Cup, the championship of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
"Obviously, if they call me," he said with a smile, "I'm ready to represent Honduras in the Gold Cup."
Associated Press Writers Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Ricardo Zuniga in Mexico City contributed to this report.