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Sandy • Nat Borchers was pinned inside purgatory. The lifelong ambition of playing professional soccer overseas was abruptly ended when his Norwegian first division club was relegated and, entering the final year of his contract with Odd Grenland, the front office and new head coach decided Borchers wasn't part of their future.
So the Colorado native started looking into options. More specifically, how he'd get back home to the U.S. The first phone call he received was from Robin Fraser. It was February 2008 and Fraser, assistant coach with Real Salt Lake at the time, dialed up his former teammate with the Colorado Rapids to gauge any sort of interest for a return to Major League Soccer.
"I said, 'Hell yeah, I want to come back,'" Borchers reminisced.
In formulating RSL from a bottom-feeder to an annual contending club in American soccer, several negotiations and signings had to hit bingo. Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey had their blueprints of which type of player could be instrumental in the transition that eventually became a reality.
Borchers, who is now entering his seventh season with RSL and who has logged over 19,000 minutes across all competitions spearheading the back line, was a target at the time along with Robbie Russell, Will Johnson, Clint Mathis and Dema Kovalenko.
"We had a player profile that we wanted to embrace, whereby American players so familiar with our culture, have gone to Europe, hardened, hopefully had to compete and come back," said Lagerwey, entering his eighth season as RSL general manager. "It was very much a part of, 'Here's how we establish the culture.' Nat was very much a part of that anchor."
Borchers, who turns 33 in April, is no longer part of the anchor, he's the boiler room for a franchise that has established itself as a title contender. So often mentioned as a paramount part of the spine with Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio, Borchers is a voice box of the club and has endeared himself to the RSL fan base.
He's a regular guest on local sports-talk radio, sprints to embrace and thank supporters after nearly every match at Rio Tinto and his beard continues to grow in size and in legend, It even has its own Twitter account. And, yes, Borchers follows his beard's daily tweets.
The engaging personality Borchers exudes is a subplot into who the RSL star is. He's also a real estate entrepreneur and has his master's degree in accounting from the University of Denver.
He calls real-estate business a hobby and says when the time comes to walk off the pitch, he'd like to help fellow professional athletes and others learn the ins and outs of financial freedoms.
It's what his peers credit much of his ability on the field to. Borchers' brains, vision and pragmatic approach to organizing a back line is considered among the best in MLS.
"With experience, he gets smarter and smarter," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "He's very, very important for our team."
"Obviously, he's not athletically gifted," Lagerwey quipped. "I think he'd be the first to tell you that. He's really smart and puts himself in good spots and because he's willing to lead, he's able to help position guys around him with help from Nick [Rimando] to have a system."
Safe to say the system remains a go.
Borchers' consistent presence at center back since 2008 allowed the club to soar when he was paired with former defender Jamison Olave and even slide in young defenders pressed into learning on the fly due to injuries. Of the 214 matches Borchers has played in since joining RSL, he has started 213.
"We do a good job of holding each other accountable," he said. "I think we push each other, I think we don't let each other take days off and there's a healthy, competitive environment here that makes guys better and pushes guys to be better and to be on their toes and that's what you need in a professional environment."
As is the case with several RSL stars, Borchers' odometer isn't going backward. He's been playing professional soccer for 11 seasons and has underwent the knife twice in three years as each of his quadriceps muscles needed fixing in offseason surgeries. Yet he's maintained his edge. His favorite days are Tuesday training sessions when he sees teammates going at one another for spots in hopes of finding a way to snag another three points and move toward another chance at winning a trophy.
"You look at other jobs and it's difficult to quantify in an annual review, what you did well and what you didn't do well," Borchers said. "With soccer, if you're performing well, the team's getting results and you can see that on the field, so that's the best part about this job." Nat Borchers file
Age • 32. From • Pueblo, Colo.
Pro career • Entering seventh year with Real Salt Lake. Played with Colorado Rapids from 2003 to 2006 before transferring to play with Odd Grenland in the Norwegian first division in 2006.
International career • Played on U-23 U.S. national team with teammates Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wingert.
Acquired • On Feb. 14, 2008, in MLS Player Allocation Lottery
RSL at San Jose
P At Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Kickoff • Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 1-0; San Jose 0-0
Last meeting • San Jose 2, RSL 1 (Sept. 21, 2013)
About RSL • Real Salt Lake won its fifth-consecutive season opener with a 1-0 win over the L.A. Galaxy last Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. … Defender Chris Schuler (foot) is in contention to travel and perhaps be included in the 18-man game-day roster against the Earthquakes. … In last year's season-opening match at Buck Shaw Stadium, goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned his 100th-career regular-season shutout. … RSL opens 2014 with four of its first six matches on the road and will travel to Kansas City and Philadelphia after back-to-back home matches starting March 22. … RSL went 2-1-0 against the Earthquakes in 2013.
About San Jose • The Earthquakes are riding a 20-game unbeaten streak at home at Buck Shaw Stadium and the last club to win in Santa Clara was RSL in its 2-0 win over the Quakes in the 2013 season opener. … San Jose is coming off a dramatic CONCACAF Champions League 1-1 draw Tuesday night at home against Mexican club team Toluca as substitute Alan Gordon notched the equalizer in stoppage time to give the Quakes a chance to advance. … San Jose brought in three newcomers this off-season: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, Andreas Gorlitz and Yannick Djalo, all of which played in first division European league. … The Quakes also signed Ryan Neil, RSL's 2014 first-round draft pick who was cut last week and also signed former RSL midfielder Khari Stephenson this week.