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National team debut in Afghanistan meaningful experience for Adam Najem

Najem started in a scoreless draw against Palestine

Pat Jacoby Photography Pat Jacoby Photography/patjacoby.com

As first trips to a country go, it’s hard to downplay the significance of Philadelphia Union midfielder Adam Najem’s recent trip to the country of his father’s birth. The 23-year-old earned his first international cap on Sunday in a scoreless draw with Palestine in Kabul.

The match was the first in the country in five years.

“It meant a lot to everybody there, it meant a lot to me and my family,” Najem said, talking to media after training in Chester on Wednesday. “It’s a different world but it was an exciting experience for sure.”

With family and friends watching the match online back home in New Jersey, Najem started on the right side of a diamond midfield. Sharing the field with him was a distant cousin, FC St. Pauli defender Ali Benjamin Nadjem. His older brother, Tampa Bay Rowdies defender David Najem was also invited to join the national team but had to sit out with an injury.

A crowd of several thousand people greeted the players when they took the field for warm-ups, Najem said.

“It gave me the chills; that’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “It’s definitely a country that hasn’t been able to have the feeling of joy and happiness for a while but we all got to be a part of that. Any sense of joy and happiness that we could bring to them, it was really amazing.”

The national team experience has brought a spotlight on Najem for the first time since his rookie season last year when he made five appearances for the first team. A year removed from his last first team appearance, Najem said the international debut was a good learning experience.

“It’s an international game so you take what you can from it,” he said.

Najem’s homegrown player rights were acquired from the New York Red Bulls in exchange for a second round draft pick after the New Jersey native starred for four seasons at Akron University. He was considered a top 10 caliber draft pick coming out of college, but coming out of preseason 18-year-old Anthony Fontana became head coach Jim Curtin’s preferred player at the 10 behind starter Borek Dockal.

His chances have come at Steel — he has two goals and two assists in 19 appearances — but as is the case for every midfielder on the team not named Dockal, Medunjanin or Bedoya there really aren’t many minutes to go around.

“The hardest job of a coach is to keep players 12 through 30 going on our roster and it’s a credit to Adam and the professionalism that he’s had this season where yes he hasn’t gotten the minutes he wanted to get on the first team,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference on Wednesday. “Some players maybe pout and put their head down and quit and some embrace it and try and get better every day and I would put Adam in that category.”

Najem is the 11th player on the Union’s current roster to receive a national team cap.