The Portland Timbers brought in longtime Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers on Monday. While Portland celebrated the arrival of a known MLS quanitity, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Utah as RSL fans mourned the loss of a player who had been a regular since joining the team seven years ago.
Here to fill us in on the bearded centerback is RSL Soapbox's Weston Jenson.
Pretending that Timbers fans have not seen Borchers two or three times a year since joining MLS in 2011, how would you describe his style of play and what he brings to the field for a team?
At the age of 34, Borchers continues to be a defensive rock for his club, playing a smarter, less instinctive game. Borchers is known for his defensive style of play were he sits back and acts somewhat as a sweeper for the net-minder. Unlike other more offensive center center backs – e.g., Aurelien Collin – seldom do you see this big man push forward with the ball. However, Borchers can also be an offensive threat as well. Playing down in a match or during free-kicks/corner-kicks, Borchers has a knack for finding himself at the end of an incoming ball. Still, the veteran defender brings solid defensive performances every time he is on the pitch.
On his return to Major League Soccer, Borchers was brimming with leadership potential and that is what he what he brought to Real Salt Lake since his return. Borchers fills a Liam Ridgewell like role. He is a vocal tactician. The veteran defender knows how to read the game and organize the people in front of him. Borchers has a talent of maintaining defensive unity in his side. Like Ridgewell, Borchers is also a strong and resilient leader – he was often seen wearing the captain’s armband when Skipper Kyle Beckerman was unavailable for a match. There has been a lot of speculation that Borchers will make a fantastic coach after he hangs up his boots.
What is Borchers' greatest strength on the field? What about his greatest weakness?
One of Borchers greatest strengths is his continued ability to play nearly every minute of every match for his side. Since arriving in Salt Lake, he has nearly always managed to put in over 2500 minutes during the regular season and still have enough gas to excel in the postseason. A byproduct of being injury-free, Borchers continue to play on grass and turf alike in his older age. A lot of time you see older defenders like Jamison Olave being rested on matches played on turf, while Borchers continues to put in solid defensive performances no matter where or on what he plays.
Playing behind a defensive midfielder like Kyle Beckerman gives a center back a little wiggle room when it comes to making rush decisions. Borchers has been able to rely on Beckerman to cover a lot of ground defensively. Therefore, we see when the defensive midfield anchor is gone how Borchers can be exposed. Take, for example, Real Salt Lake’s first meeting with Seattle this year that ended in a 4-0 loss for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Borchers was left alone, one-on-one with Obafemi Martins and the score line showed how Borchers lack of pace was exposed without a defensive midfielder to pressure the opponent's forwards.
Still, Borchers is able to make great defensive saves as well. For example, during the third matchup between the Claret-and-Cobalt and the Rave Green Borchers took a tactical red and prevented Martins from going one-on-one with Nick Rimando. While Borchers does lack the legs of a younger man, Borchers tactical awareness more than makes up for any of his weaknesses.
Why would Real Salt Lake let go of a defender who has been at the center of their defense for the last seven years? Is there any concern that Borchers, now 34, has lost a step?
Real Salt Lake had to part ways with Borchers because there was no way we could protect him with both New York City FC and Orlando City picking in the 2014 Expansion Draft. Therefore, getting little to nothing for a defender of his caliber was unthinkable. Moreover, being such a long-tenured member of the RSL family, we wanted to let him decide where he wanted to go. Reports indicate several clubs were looking at adding Borchers to their rosters. Letting Borchers pick were he wanted to continue his career is a no-brainer. Luckily enough for Rose City, Borchers picked the Timbers perhaps because of the possession oriented tactics employed similar to that of Real Salt Lake.
If there is any concern about Borchers having lost a step it is news to the Salt Lake franchise. From the newest fan to the owner of the club, we have yet to see the lumberjack we know as Nat Borchers take many missteps. Putting in solid defensive performances match after match, Borchers continues to provide defensive support alone the backline – settling his central defensive partners and allowing the full backs to push into the offensive side of the pitch. At 34 years-old, Borchers have yet to lose anything that makes him or made him such a great soccer player.
A player doesn't stick around as a professional for twelve years without some amusing stories, compromising photos, or general weirdness cropping up (think the Michael Harrington cat video or Kyle Beckerman's hat). What have you got for us on Borchers?
Borchers is not one to attract much attention outside his workhorse attitude about the beautiful game. That being said, Borchers was only recently exposed to some general weirdness. Borchers starting growing a beard in late 2012 and it has now become a sensation. Shirts and scarves are popping up all along the Wasatch Front (the Greater Salt Lake Area) with the phrase "Fear the Beard." It has become so huge that local sports casters have been heard referring to Nat as "The Beard."
As for any cat videos or hats, Borchers has yet to expose those to the public if he has them. Still, I think when you put some Oregon plaid on him and give him either a chainsaw or a slab or word, Portland will already have an amusing Borchers story to remember him by.