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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Despite family ties, lifelong Red Bull Najem's heart is in Philly

Midfielder Adam Najem, center, poses with Union sporting director Earnie Stewart,
left, and coach Jim Curtin after signing with the club last week.
(Courtesy of Philadelphia Union)
PHILADELPHIA >> A smile creeps across Adam Najem’s face when a scenario that he has clearly thought plenty about is presented to him.

Someday soon, whether while wearing a Bethlehem Steel or Philadelphia Union jersey, Najem could line up against the club of his youth, the New York Red Bulls (I or II). Opposite him on the field that day could be his older brother, David Najem, a 24-year-old midfielder for Red Bulls II.

“We grew up playing against each other all the time and having little one-v-one battles in our backyard,” Adam Najem said with a smile Monday after Union training under the bubble at Penn’s Dunning-Cohen Champions Field. “We’re always competing with one another. It’ll definitely be fun to see him competing on the other side of the field. I’m just glad he’s getting his opportunity, and hopefully he can make his way up from there.”

The potential of a brotherly matchup is just one oddity of Najem’s move to the City of Brotherly Love, sealed last week when the Red Bulls shipped Najem’s Homegrown rights to the Union for its natural second round in the 2018 SuperDraft pick.

It appears a tidy piece of business to add the 22-year-old attacking midfielder, who spent four seasons at the University of Akron and likely would’ve been a high first round pick had he entered the draft. Instead, with the Red Bulls holding his rights to sign or trade, Najem was excluded, forced to play a different kind of waiting game as his classmates learned their professional futures.

“I know it’s a business and everything around it is going to be complicated,” Najem said. “It was a little unsettling and I didn’t really know what was going on, but I’m sure guys in the draft had the same type of unsettling feeling. Everything happens for a reason. I just took it and was patient and thankful for Philadelphia Union for taking a chance on me.”

Najem surfaced at Union training camp on Day 1 as a “trialist” and drew plaudits from manager Jim Curtin from the start. In the native of Clifton, N.J., Curtin saw the talent that yielded 33 goals and 29 assists in 89 games for the powerhouse Zips, and the diminutive playmaker’s skills translated instantly to the professional practice field. Curtin drew cautious parallels between Najem and FC Dallas’ spritely playmaker, Mauro Diaz, one of the league’s best.

The 5-foot-8, 150-pound Najem enticed the Union as a depth option at the No. 10, where the Union are relatively thin – Alejandro Bedoya is the presumptive starter, with Roland Alberg as a proto-backup/super-sub.

The Red Bulls Academy is certainly among the best in the nation, but for the glut of products lining Red Bull II’s roster that led to a landslide triumph in the USL playoffs last season, few find their way to the Red Bulls starting XI. At just 31, coming off an MVP-caliber season, the parent club’s No. 10 role seems securely held for the short-term by Sacha Kljestan.

That has inspired Najem to branch out, something his older brother did. The Columbia graduate David spent two seasons in the German fourth tier before returning to the Red Bull mothership.

As for the rivalry that Adam Najem is now bridging, he takes a clear-eyed approach. It’s a business, and though his gratitude to the Red Bulls for a decade under their umbrella doesn’t vanish, he’s wholeheartedly ready to contribute for the Union.

“I’ll take any opportunity I can to get at the level I want to be at, and I’m grateful for Philly,” he said. “I’m just going to take it one step at a time and do what I can to continue improving as a player. … I grew up a Red Bull fan and I played there since I was 12 years old. But my heart and everything else is a Philly Union fan now. I’m going to give everything I can to the Philadelphia Union organization.”

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