CHESTER, Pa— Adam Najem will never forget the atmosphere in Kabul, as he and his Afghanistan teammates entered the stadium for Sunday’s friendly versus Palestine.
The Philadelphia Union midfielder, who started on the right wing for Afghanistan, expressed delight that he and the rest of the squad were able to bring joy to the war-ridden country in the first game in five years in the nation’s capital.
“It’s definitely a country that hasn’t been able to have the feeling of joy and happiness for a while,” Najem said. “We all got to be a part of that. Any sense of joy and happiness that we could bring to them was amazing.”
“Inside the stadium was amazing,” Najem said. “We arrived at the stadium about two and a half hours before the game and there already 6-7.000 people there. As soon as we stepped out, even before warmups, everybody was cheering and whistling. We took the laps around the field and it was incredible. It gave me the chills. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
The 23-year-old went into his first national team camp with an open perspective, as he was willing to learn from the players in the squad to try and further his game.
“That was my first international game so I went into it open-minded,” Najem said. “It was fast-paced with a lot of counterattacking. Just another soccer game when it comes down to it. I was really happy with how we performed and we got a 0-0 result, which is big for us.”
Najem usually plays in the central part of midfield, but he began the contest on the right wing. With the formation Afghanistan employed, Najem was able to play freely.
“We played kind of a diamond midfield so I had a lot of freedom to go where I wanted,” Najem said. “Credit to the guys, there was a lot of movement and we created some good chances.”
Since Afghanistan has been a war zone for more than a decade, safety is one of the first things that usually pops up in anyone’s mind. Although there were some concerns, Najem felt safe for the duration of the trip, which started with a flight to Dubai to meet up with the team and then a plane ride to Kabul.
“Everybody from the camp went in knowing there’s a risk involved,” Najem said. “Everyone knew that anything could happen at any moment, but that’s life you know? I’m glad I took the risk of seeing the country and being a part of that. We stayed in a great hotel with a lot of security. We had police and military escorts going to and from the hotel to practice. Our safety was great and they really took care of us. We were very safe.”
As an American, Najem didn’t receive much push back from his teammates, who are spread across the globe in different leagues.
“A lot of those guys comes from different countries, like Sweden. Germany, Norway, Holland,” Najem said. “Everyone’s been around the world. There was definitely questions about the United States and the league and stuff like that. No one looked at me differently just because I was from the United States. Everyone really helped me out in any way they could.”
The goal now for Najem is to use his experience with Afghanistan to break into the Union’s matchday squad, and help United Soccer League affiliate Bethlehem Steel make a playoff push.
“Whether I got this call up or not, I was going to continue pushing myself,” Najem said. “That’s just who I am. I love this game too much not to sit back and take not doing anything. I’m going to continue pushing myself because of the national team, because of the player that I am. Anything that can help me, I’ll continue pushing and improve.”