Whatever the team needs, Honduras’ Najar is ready

Honduras' Andy Najar (white jersey) has scored two career CONCACAF Gold Cup goals. (Photo: Mexsport)

FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts – As a roar rose up from Gillette Stadium and emotions boiled over on the field, Andy Najar found the ball, picked it up and mentally prepared for what was next.

The Honduras midfielder’s mind was made up. He was fouled and he was going to be the one to try and level for his team as the second half was nearing a close.

The match was in the balance, but Najar was the definition of calm and confidence. Before placing the ball on the spot, Jorge Claros whispered in his ear.

The message was a bit surprising.

“The coach didn’t want me to take the penalty,” Najar said. “But when you have the ball, you have to have confidence, you have to have the attitude to just shoot the ball and score.”

The 22-year-old’s goal, which came on a rebound after Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo saved his penalty off the crossbar in the 81st minute, secured a 1-1 draw for Honduras, a critical point heading into the final match of the group stage Monday against Haiti.

“It was a good feeling because when I saw Penedo save the penalty, I thought the ball was going up and over the goalie,” Najar remarked. “But I saw it hit the crossbar and came back. When you shoot, you have to follow the ball.”

Honduras head coach Jorge Luis Pinto has given Najar more freedom in the attack, which is a slightly different situation than for his club team, Belgium’s Anderlecht.

“He’s an important player for us in attack,” Pinto said. “He’s a player who for Honduras attacks more than maybe he does in similar schemes. He’s not tasked with defending as much for us.”

It’s a situation that Najar believes he can thrive in.

“I think it’s good for me because like to score goals, get assists. I like to help the team attack,” Najar said. “In Anderlecht, I don’t have that freedom to only attack. I have to defend and attack there. I like it because it’s going to help me when I go to maybe a bigger club. I’m always going to do what the coach wants me to do. It’s not a problem for me.”

Neither are pressure-filled penalty kicks.