Over a billion people watched players like Paul Pogba and Luka Modric represent their countries in the World Cup final. Few players get the opportunity to play in such a massive event, but with so many soccer-mad countries in the world it is always meaningful to pull on a national team jersey.
Philadelphia Union midfielder Adam Najem didn't play in the World Cup final, but now he will get the chance to represent the country of his father after accepting a call-up to the Afghanistan national team. The Lions of Khurasan are set to face off with Palestine in an international friendly on August 19.
Najem has represented the U.S. National Team at the youth levels, but now he will wear the Afghanistan uniform proudly after responding to a Facebook message from an Afghan coach. Despite initial skepticism, the Union midfielder decided this was the right path forward and within days he was put in contact with the head coach.
"Representing any country is such an honor," Najem said. "They (the Afghanistan Football Federation) came and approached me and really showed me the respect, showed they wanted me to represent them. That’s what any player wants, is someone to show the confidence in them." Najem was born and raised in the United States, but his diverse heritage — his father is from Afghanistan and his mother hails from Belarus — has allowed him this opportunity to wear a national team's colors. Najem's love and passion for soccer came largely from his father's side of the family, who nurtured that love and helped turn him into the player he is today.
"My Afghanistan side of the family really helped me develop my game," Najem said. "I started playing because of my dad and uncle and, obviously, my brothers. It’s going to be a great experience and the Afghan community has always been behind me and supports me so I’m looking forward to representing them.”
Although this trip will mark the first time Najem has stepped foot in Afghanistan — he will land in Kabul later in the week — the young midfielder and his brother have always retained pride in his family's roots. David Najem is three years older than Adam and plays for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, though he is currently recovering from a knee injury.
According to Adam, David is currently undergoing rehab and will join the team after he makes a full recovery and is healthy to play.
And there's another big reason Najem is excited for his first international call-up. "I actually have a second or third cousin on the team that plays in Germany as well so it’ll be fun to meet him," the Union midfielder told me. The chance to meet a family member (for the first time, no less) reinforces the relationship between soccer and family for Najem, and speaks to why he fits into the Union culture so well. Philly seeks to build a team-first atmosphere, and young players see the first-team lockerroom as a place of brotherhood and support.
Even with the family ties and the personalized mural that will greet him, Najem knows this trip will be a journey into the unexpected. "I had an international experience representing the U.S. at the youth levels but this is a completely different experience being with the full team," he admits, "I’m not really sure what to expect but am looking forward to the experience.”