PORTLAND, Ore. – Three-hundred forty games in MLS—sixth most in league history. Two MLS Cups—including helping Portland to their first ever in 2015. An MLS Best XI selection in 2010. A plethora of soccer memories. And yes, that iconic beard. Nat Borchers made quite a career for himself across a 14-year soccer odyssey that saw him play for the Colorado Rapids, Odd Grenland in Norway (now known as Odds BK), Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers.
On Friday, the fan-favorite Borchers announced his soccer retirement. Exchanging his soccer boots for a set of headphones, Borchers will join the club's broadcast team as well as being involved in Portland's community platform, Stand Together.
“I have to thank Merritt Paulson, Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter for giving me the opportunity to retire as a Timber and being so supportive,” said Borchers at an afternoon press conference. “Since [my family] came here, we just felt like we were such a big part of this community and people made us feel so welcome and the club did as well. It’s just really a special place and a special club in our hearts. That’s why we’re proud to retire as Timbers."
After suffering a season-ending injury midway through the 2016 regular-season, Borchers spent a great deal of time reflecting on what his next steps would be. The decision to retire for Borchers, while not easy, was also one that brought a renewed sense of opportunity.
“That was really the moment for me, knowing that I had a big-time injury and having not experienced that before, it was new to me, for sure,” he said. “It was terrifying, no doubt. But there was a sense of relief that I had given everything I could and so my body finally told me, ‘Hey, it’s time for you to slow down and recover and get better from this injury.’
“That process was a journey for sure. Not being with the team and having some time to think about what I wanted to do next and being around [my family] was great and good for perspective.”
After staring his pro career Colorado—a place where he also went to high school and played collegiately at the University of Denver—as well as playing and living in Salt Lake City for seven seasons, the choice to stay in Portland was one that Borchers and his family leapt at.
“I think, when we came here, we were just so surprised by how much we loved it here,” said Borchers of the Rose City. “We just fell in love with it. This is a place where we want to raise our kids and we love the club. I think the biggest thing, too, is that this is Soccer City, USA. People love the Timbers here and we love being a part of this club.”
Plus, having some familiar faces in the front office in recently retired Jack Jewsbury—who is now the club’s director of business development—and Ned Grabavoy, director of scouting and recruitment, helps a bit too.
“I’m joining Jack and Ned in the ‘suit’ ranks,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes, it’s time to class it up a little bit.”
There’s plenty Borchers will miss from soccer, be it the epic games of 5v2 at training, to the locker room banter, to the competition of challenging himself against players such as Darlington Nagbe or Diego Valeri that, he says, are “professionals who are much better [at soccer] than you.” The Providence Park experience holds a special place in his heart as well.
“As a Timber, walking out on to the field, seeing the Timbers Army and hearing their chants; you don’t get that opportunity in American soccer very often to play for this kind of electric atmosphere,” he said. “I’m going to miss that, for sure.”
But a life away from the pitch calls too. For Borchers and his family, the decision felt right.
“I think also that there’s things we [as a family] were looking at that we want to accomplish in life,” he said. “I think the timing was right for us. And with the opportunity to continue to work with the club at this level and continue to do the things we want to do outside of soccer was just a huge part of our decision.”
Is the flame red beard retiring as well?
“I mean the beard has stayed as long as my wife is okay with it,” Borchers said with a laugh. “I think that we’ll have to just see how it goes whether it gets another year but I can’t make any guarantees.”