With Andy Najar's move to Belgium appearing all but confirmed at this point, we look at where his transfer will leave the Black-and-Red as they enter 2013.
Steve Goff over at the Post's Soccer Insider blog is reporting that on this second-to-last day of the European transfer window, D.C. United and RSC Anderlecht are finalizing a deal to transfer Andy Najar to the reigning (and 31-time) Belgian champs. The transfer fee looks to be in the neighborhood of $2 million - I'm guessing a bit more - well below some of the earlier rumored amounts. Obviously, D.C. United fans, myself included, will want to see a higher amount, but this is probably a reasonable fee for a young player with 3 caps for a non-power like Honduras.
Quickly, let's think about what Najar's transfer will mean for United.
On the books
Andy will be the first homegrown player in MLS history to be transferred abroad. This means that United will benefit by claiming 3/4 of the transfer fee, rather than the customary 2/3; the remainder goes to Major League Soccer. Cribbing from Big D Soccer's excellent primer on the subject (h/t commenter Bald Pollack), we know that the first $650,000 will go to United as allocation money. Combined with Andy's $180,000 guaranteed salary coming off the books, D.C. will effectively be gaining $830,000 of cap space compared to yesterday.
Based on the rumored transfer fee somewhere just north of $2 million, the rest of the team's sharewill probably be something close to $1 million. Much of that will be reinvested into the D.C. United Academy, and the rest we have to think will be reinvested into the club somehow - facilities, paying for player transfers, salary for a DP, etc. The transfer agreement will also likely include a sell-on fee, which would funnel to D.C. United and MLS a portion of whatever money Anderlecht receives as part of any future sale of Najar.
On the field
Honestly, Andy Najar was a unique presence on the field for United. There's a reason the site motto here has been Tenemos que Najar! since his rookie year in 2010. Of course, that year he was a lonely bright spot on the worst team in club history. He scored goals, created assists and made some ridiculous runs from his right midfield spot. By the second half of last year, he was back in the right back spot he had manned in the United Academy, and in the 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire last fall, he became one of the few fullbacks ever to take over a game, shredding the left side of Chicago's midfield and defense time and again while also standing up Patrick Nyarko 1v1 on multiple occasions.
So how will we deal without him? Well, the biggest reason Najar was pushed to fullback last year is one Nick DeLeon, who along with Chris Pontius held (and still hold) a death grip on the top line of the outside midfielder depth chart. Like those two, Najar is a guy who forces his way onto the field, and he provided the Black-and-Red a boost to the attack overlapping on the right side. Luckily, United have a guy who is just as fast as Najar (faster by some players' accounts) and is a natural right fullback: Chris Korb. With Daniel Woolard returning with no lingering symptoms rom his concussion last year, rookie Taylor Kemp and Serbian trialist Neven Markovic all vying for time at left back, Korb is free to move back to his natural right side. Robbie Russell will have something to say about Korb stepping into the starting role, but with the growth he displayed last year deputizing for Woolard, my money is on the Akron man claiming the job by First Kick.
Obviously, Korb isn't a perfect substitute for Najar - nobody on the roster is as skilled a dribbler, and few can match his distance shooting - but he's the closest we've got. And, honestly, he's no slouch. With Najar gone, he'll probably be the undisputed fastest man on the roster, and his positional sense is better than the Honduran's thanks to his greater time in the position. Across the field, Woolard's return may have forced Korb out of the left back position, anyway - so that spot is already covered.
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The big unanswered question, once the deal is finalized for once and all, becomes what United will do with the money. How much will go into the Academy vs. how much will go to new player acquisition?
In any event, as a fan I'll miss Andy and his runs down the right flank, and his backflip goal celebration. I can't help but want him to tear up the Belgian league, though and continue his growth as he climbs the ranks of European soccer.