Every so often, we ask a U.S. Youth National Team player who has established themselves in the pro ranks to look back on their first year and tell us about their experiences, good and bad. This time, the 750-word essay assignment was given to Colorado Rapids rookie and current University of Denver graduate student Nat Borchers, whose rapid-ly (Get it? “Rapid”-ly? Huh? Huh? Is this thing on?) improving play across the MLS season earned him his first call-up to the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team camp and a chance to help the team qualify for the 2004 Olympics. Borchers gives us a first-hand account of his roller coaster year that included going undrafted at the 2003 MLS SuperDraft in January, making his first appearance on June 6 and then starting and playing every minute of the next 26 games for one of the better teams in the league.
“As I look back on the events of the previous 11 months, I’m still not sure if I’m awake or if I’m still dreaming.
"In early January of this year I was doing what most college students my age were doing: looking for a job. After a poor tryout with the Dallas Burn, I was interning with Price Waterhouse Coopers, an accounting firm in the Denver area. As a senior at Denver University, taking the quarter off of school to participate in an internship is a recommendation and is necessary to get real world experience in accounting.
"On January 17, three weeks into my internship, the MLS had its draft. I was at work and constantly checked the Internet with great anticipation. I always had dreams of playing professional soccer, but I knew that the odds were not in my favor. I had a relatively good college career, but I was no All-American and my college team never made the NCAA tournament. I figured that if I had a shot at getting drafted, it would come in the fifth or sixth rounds. Rounds five and six came and went without my name showing up on the Internet.
"I guess that I had my hopes up about getting drafted, because when it did not happen, I was shocked; I couldn’t believe that I had gotten passed up like that. However, when I looked at the list of players that were drafted, I was sure that the MLS coaches had made the correct choices. My college coach, Chad Ashton, called and told me that I had barely missed getting picked up by an MLS team.
"Two days later I received a call from Steve Trittschuh, the assistant coach of the Colorado Rapids. He left a message telling me that I was invited to try out for the team. I almost didn’t call him back.
"At first I felt angry. I mean, why didn’t they just draft me in the first place? Then, I felt like it wasn’t even worth it. I didn’t think that I stood a chance against the draft picks or the guys that had already proven themselves as professional soccer players. Finally, I decided that I had nothing to lose by trying out for the Rapids because most players never got an opportunity like this one. I also figured that I had nothing to lose; I was an undrafted no-namer from Denver University, so there were no expectations of me.
"When I got to the training center, (Rapids head coach) Tim Hankinson took me aside and told me, ‘We didn’t draft you because you are a local guy. You need to understand that once you get on the field out there, you will be evaluated fairly, just like everyone else.’ This was definitely a breath of fresh air to me, because politics always seem to play a factor in coaching decisions. Hankinson’s words proved true, and I found the Rapids coaching staff to be very objective in their player evaluations. I also found in the Rapids an organization that had world-class facilities, an incredible support staff, and players that were helpful and down to earth.
"After three weeks of training with the Rapids, I was invited to join them in Boca Raton, Fla., for pre-season camp. I was excited for this opportunity, because I knew that if I performed well in Florida, I was one step closer to being signed onto the team.
"In Florida, the competition for spots was fierce and playing well was held at a premium. This situation was difficult for me and all of the new guys, because we were all away from our friends and families and we had no guarantees that we would make the team. New guys would come in and train one day and be gone the next day. This is by far the most difficult part about being a professional.
"Fortunately for me, the coaching staff of the Rapids decided that I was worthy of professional soccer. In early March I signed a developmental contract, which is for players that are 23 and under. These players do not count against the regular 18-man roster of the MLS team and they are considered reserve players.
"I was ecstatic that the team signed me. I called my parents, my girlfriend, and all of my friends to let them know. I accepted the fact that I would probably be a reserve team player for most of the year, and that I probably would not be seeing any time on the field. I had no idea what would happen next.
"On June 6, 2003, the day that all my best friends were graduating from DU (Denver University), I was in Carson, California. It was the inaugural game of The Home Depot Center and I had front row seats to the game on the Rapids bench. The Rapids were playing the L.A. Galaxy and the game was tied at 0-0 in the 11th minute when our starting central defender, Jeff Stewart, went down with an injury. Our coach looked down the bench and told me to get warmed up. I didn’t believe that a solid player like Stewart was really injured. I just assumed that he would walk it off and that I would not have to come into a game and play in front of almost 30,000 blaring Galaxy fans and a nationwide audience on ESPN2.
"It turned out that Stewart had torn his ACL. So I checked into the game with a serious state of the butterflies and just tried not to make any mistakes. The game ended up 2-0 in favor of the Galaxy, but the coaching staff seemed to be pleased with my performance. To my surprise and the surprise of many people, I ended up starting the next 23 games of the season. Though we did not make it to the MLS Cup, I really improved as a player. I have been able to learn from great players like Chris Henderson, Robin Fraser, and Mark Chung, just to name a few. Even though I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming, I still have a long way to go in my professional soccer career.”
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder [“Best of U.S. Soccer 2003”: Who Should Win]
2) In Threes [w/ U-20 MNT forward Mike Magee]
3) Making it to the Show [w/ U-23 MNT defender Nat Borchers]
4) Queries & Anecdotes [w/ WNT defender Brandi Chastain]
5) Mark That Calendar [U-20 MNT vs. Group D Opponents – Nov. 29-Dec. 5]
6) Superstar!!! [w/ WNT defender Cat Reddick]
7) Point/Counterpoint [Who will win MLS Cup?]
8) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" [U.S. U-20 World Championship Trivia]
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