There was no shortage of needs to fill for Real Salt Lake following last year's disappointing season, but perhaps no void was bigger than the one left by the retirement of Eddie Pope.
RSL had to not only replace a U.S. soccer icon but a defender coming off one of his best seasons as a professional.
With money to spend and roster spots to fill, RSL first addressed the center back need by acquiring Colombian defender Jamison Olave a player who's still awaiting his work visa. Having never before played in MLS, Olave is a bit of a gamble, which is what makes signing Nat Borchers last week that much more important.
Borchers is a proven player in both MLS and overseas, credentials RSL was hoping could take Pope's place.
"He's the type of center back that can really help us. He's really solid, knows how to play the position," said fellow defender Chris Wingert.
"He's another guy that's very vocal and he's great at encouraging the team and organizing as well, and I really think he's going to fit into that mold of what you need out of a center back."
Make no mistake about it, Borchers wants to be in MLS and more specifically with Real Salt Lake.
Despite leaving MLS two seasons ago to play in Norway, Borchers said two years abroad was enough for him and his return to the States had nothing to do with his club team Odd Grenland being relegated from the Norwegian first division.
"Obviously I was disappointed to be relegated; it's nothing you want as a professional, (but) I was ready to come back and be closer to the family, in terms of distance where I come from in Colorado," said Borchers.
The 26-year-old trained for the first time with Real Salt Lake in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday, his first training session since November because of a recurring ankle injury.
While resting his ankle this offseason, Borchers got in contact with Robin Fraser, "and he told me a lot about the team and the changes that were being made, and I was really excited to come back," said Borchers.
Deciding to return to MLS was easy, but one more hurdle remained.
Because of Borchers' fairly prominent status, RSL was by no means the only team interested once he signed his new contract with the league. As a result, an allocation lottery was set up, and Salt Lake was third on the list behind San Jose and Toronto.
Borchers' agent contacted both San Jose and Toronto and informed them his client wanted to play for RSL. With Toronto general manager Mo Johnston in the picture, cooperation was complicated. Johnston is the same person who selected then-RSL star Jason Kreis in Toronto's expansion draft two years ago despite no intention of keeping him. He knew RSL would cough up the cash to keep him, a brilliant move on his part.
After San Jose opted to pass on Borchers, surprisingly enough, Toronto did, too.
"I was fairly sure I would end up in Salt Lake. I didn't want to come back and play for anyone else, to be honest," said Borchers. "I actually spoke to Mo Johnston on the phone on allocation day because that was a concern I might end up over there."
His acquisition was a big boost from the standpoint that RSL wants to identify an American core of players to build the team around, while surrounding them with quality international players.
"So to be able to bring back an American player that has European experience is big for us," said Kreis, who is now RSL's head coach. "Nat's a competitor, and what it does for us now in another position, we have multiple players that are very, very capable of being starters for us, and starting a large number of games for us over the season. It's going to be nice competition as well."Borchers, who spent two years with Colorado before heading overseas, is confident his playing experience overseas will help RSL for years to come, in addition to his mentality of "win or go home."
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