Rumblings about Nat Borchers began last week and lead to fierce conversations around the league. After seven seasons with the Claret-and-Cobalt, Borchers, a veteran presence on the backline, was traded to Portland Timbers. Still, the Bearded One has a long history in Salt Lake that has translated to success time and time again.
During the 2008 offseason, the University of Denver alumni was acquired by Real Salt Lake via an MLS Player Allocation Lottery after two years in Norway. The Colorado-native and product of the Colorado Rapids development program excelled for our Rocky Mountain Cup rivals before gaining leadership experience at Odd Grenland. Borchers, then 27, came to RSL with high hopes, which he would deliver.
Within his first year with the Claret-and-Cobalt, Borchers started forming a dynamic partnership with fellow center-back Jamison Olave. It was this partnership that lead RSL to their first-ever postseason appearance — the beginning of RSL's record seventh consecutive postseason appearance. During this season, Borchers only missed one match and tallied a single assist.
The Borchers-Olave partnership continued to excel in the 2009 season and earned the veteran center-back Real Salt Lake's Most Valuable Player honor on their road to winning the MLS Cup. Again, Borchers was a steady member of the Claret-and-Cobalt appearing in all 30 matches and recording a goal.
Borchers continued to add to the Claret-and-Cobalt's center-back pairing in 2010. Another year of rock solid performances helped RSL record the new fewest goals allowed in a season, with 20. The previous record was 23 goals conceded by the 2007 Houston Dynamo.
Unsurprisingly, the veteran defender appeared in all but one of Real Salt Lake's 40 combined MLS regular season, CONCACAF Champions League, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and MLS Cup Playoff contests, tallying three goals and an assist across 3,543 minutes of play. This is also the year that Borchers began to don the captain's armband when Kyle Beckerman was unavailable for action. All of this contributed to him being runner-up in the MLS' Defender of the Year Award, only slightly losing out to partner Jamison Olave.
For two more seasons, the Borchers - Olave pairing wreaked havoc on the league as Borchers continued to finish top amongst RSL's field players in minutes. Through the ups-and-downs of these seasons, Borchers remained an essential component to the club's success. Recording a combined five goals and one assist, the veteran continued to be a dominate force in the league on both sides of the pitch.
In his sixth season with the Claret-and-Cobalt, Borchers assumed an even larger leadership role with the club following the offseason trade of center-back partner Olave to New York. Through Nat's defensive leadership and ability to read the game, Real Salt Lake was able to reach the MLS Cup Final for a second time in their history - both times with Borchers on the backline.
Through nine different center-back pairing in the 2013 season, Borchers taught the younger members of the defensive line — some of whom we can assume to be his successors. The preferred Borchers-Schuler partnership was so successful that Chris Schuler received a call-up to the US Men's National Team that he was unable to make due to an injury.
During the 2014 season, the RSL veteran continued to bring organizational and tactical awareness to the defense. Appearing in 32 of 34 matches for the Claret-and-Cobalt, Borchers logged a goal in another dominate season that was abruptly ended in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Nat was a vital defensive leader for RSL during the 2014 campaign, especially with the absences of Beckerman and Rimando. Wearing the captain's armband a record number of times this year, it was Borchers' leadership that brought success to the Claret-and-Cobalt during the summer months.
With yet another veteran leaving the club, RSL is going younger and it appears to be an end of an era. Still, we should continue to expect to see Nat put in dominating defensive performances in the league, but sadly not with RSL. Still, the Bearded One will remain a legend at the RioT as the days of "Fear the Beard" fade into twilight as the new dawn begins.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2014 season and previewing the 2015 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.