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Borchers hoping to cap first Timbers season with his second MLS Cup title

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Since the process of growing it began in 2013, the beard sported by Nat Borchers has become hard to miss. Yet, Sunday afternoon, the facial hair that has become Borchers’ most recognizable feature could, in theory, fall by the wayside in exchange for an MLS Cup.

Then a member of Real Salt Lake, Borchers began growing what, at the time, was a typical playoff beard ahead of the 2013 postseason, which saw RSL fall to Sporting KC in penalty kicks in the MLS Cup final. What started as a fun ritual for a postseason run became a representation of Borchers’ biggest desire, as the 34-year-old defender vowed he would not shave until after he lifted a second career MLS Cup.

Although he admitted that his wife has become quite fond of the facial hair, Borchers will have that very chance on Sunday afternoon when the Portland Timbers take on the Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup finale.

“When I started out in 2013 with the goal of shaving it when we won, we didn’t,” Borchers said with a laugh. “Two years later, here we are again and the goal is to win an MLS Cup championship.”

Should he reach the mountaintop for a second time, it would represent yet another remarkable run that Borchers says is little different than that he experienced as a member of RSL’s 2009 title winning team.

Boasting a strong defensive core featuring centerback partner Liam Ridgewell alongside fullbacks Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana, the Timbers entered 2015 just one or two pieces away from title contention. One of those pieces ended up being Borchers, who proved to be a natural fit in Portland both on and off the field.

Outside of Providence Park, Borchers adopted the city of Portland almost immediately, and not just because of the lumberjack-like beard he currently sports. Citing the city’s unique, local-based culture, Borchers has fallen in love with the non-commercialized atmosphere of the Rose City while counting himself as just another member of a big, friendly community.

As natural as his off-the-field fit is, Borchers may make even more sense as a centerback in the Timbers system. Borchers transitioned seamlessly into the Timbers defense by immediately establishing a partnership with Ridgewell that has become among the top central defense pairings in MLS.

“I think it was there before I came with Jorge and Liam and Alvas as well as Papa (Noberto Paparato),” Borchers said. “We had four very good players on this team, and when I came in, it wasn’t a whole lot of change I had to make, to be honest. Everybody has bought into the defending and the balance in the attack and that’s just been really important.”

“He’s needed to be important all year,” added Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. “In every single game, he’s delivered in every way we would hope he would deliver. Experience, locker room, on the pitch, winning balls, blocking shots, organizing the line. We feel like in Ridgey and him, we have two very good central defenders, and you add on Jorge and Alvas, there’s a reason why we’ve had 13 shutouts and been so good defensively. We’re going to need him to do what he’s been doing.”

If Borchers can do just that, the Timbers are all but certain to contend in Sunday’s match. Truth be told, Borchers has proven to be a major reason the club even reached the finale, especially given his scoring touch and heroic block of a late-game Blas Perez shot that kept FC Dallas at bay in the Western Conference Finals.

Now, Borchers and his teammates sit just one step away from an MLS Cup crown and, in Borchers’ case, maybe even a razor.

“It’s always exciting there’s no doubt about that. You always get butterflies in your stomach,” Borchers said. “That’s not going to change. There’s a lot of energy and hype. When the game’s over, you don’t remember any of this stuff. It’s more about the game, let’s be honest, and what happens in the game. That’s the most important part, so that’s all you’re going to remember.

“It’s been fun. There’s no doubt about it. Playing for MLS Cup is as exciting as it gets, especially for our group. It’s the first time for this club and I think we’re all very excited for the opportunity.”


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