As his rehab from the Achilles tear that ended his 2016 season continues, Nat Borchers announced his retirement from professional soccer on Friday morning.
Borchers steps away from the game as one of the best center backs in MLS history: 340 appearances, 339 starts, 29 playoff games, 1 MLS Best XI appearance, and two MLS Cup championships — the last of which came in Portland in 2015.
Borchers is sticking around. He'll be part of the Timbers' broadcast team in 2017, and remain involved with the club's community platform Stand Together. He'll be honored at Providence Park during the team's March 18th game against the Houston Dynamo.
Although Borchers played just the final two seasons of his 14-year professional career in Portland, his impact on the Timbers — both on and off the field — defies measure. Below are Borchers' five best moments as a member of the Portland Timbers.
The Portland Timbers entered the second leg of the 2015 Western Conference Final against FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas in an enviable position, up 3-1 on aggregate. 54 minutes into the game, that 3-1 lead would become 4-1 when Fanendo Adi opened the scoring. The Timbers appeared to be sailing through to MLS Cup.
And then things began to unravel.
Ryan Hollingshead pulled a goal back on 68 minutes. Four minutes later, Timbers nemesis Blas Perez headed home a free kick to pull the aggregate score to 4-3. One goal away from forcing extra time, Dallas continued to pour on the pressure against an exhausted Portland defense.
Then, two minutes into stoppage time, the moment: A deflected Michael Barrios cross fell to Perez, unmarked, ten yards from goal, ready to tie the series. Then, from completely out of the play, Borchers came hurtling in to block Perez's goal-bound volley.
It was a play of absolutely stupendous proportions, and it saved the Timbers' season. Not three minutes later, Lucas Melano danced through the Dallas defense and sealed the club's first ever trip to MLS Cup.
Just minutes after Maxi Urruti's 118th minute goal had sent his team's instant-classic 2015 Wild Card game against Sporting Kansas City into a penalty shootout, the Timbers had their backs to the wall again.
A Diego Valeri miss to open the shootout, followed by a Benny Feilhaber make, meant that the Timbers needed, in all likelihood, to convert their second penalty kick to keep their playoff run alive.
Borchers seemed an odd choice to step up. The center back wasn't a regular penalty taker or goalscorer. The only other time he'd taken a spot-kick in an MLS game when RSL's 2013 MLS Cup Final against the very same Sporting KC team went ten rounds.
But the Timbers needed someone to step up, and Borchers, of course, rose to the challenge: He blazed his penalty — as hard as you'll ever see — into the far left corner. Sporting goalkeeper Jon Kempin guessed the right way, but didn't get anywhere close to the ball.
Borchers' immediate reaction after watching his penalty rip through the net was to stop in his tracks, stand up ram-rod straight, and, with a look of pure fire, put his left hand to his forehead and ferociously salute the Timbers Army.
You know the rest: The Timbers, eighteen penalties and a couple of posts later, would go on to win that shootout, beat Vancouver, beat Dallas, and win MLS Cup in Columbus. From that fateful October night on, Borchers would salute the Army before every Timbers home game he started.
One day before the first leg of the 2015 Western Conference Final between the Timbers and Dallas at Providence Park, a Facebook post from a woman named Allison Winningstad began making the rounds on social media.
In the post, Winningstad movingly detailed how her mother, Lynda Rose, a lifelong Timbers fan dying of cancer, wanted to see her favorite team win MLS Cup in her final season.
The Timbers came through with tickets to the game the next day, courtesy of owner Merritt Paulson. But Borchers, moved by the story, came through in an even bigger way.
He visited Lynda and Allison after the Timbers' 3-1 win, taking pictures and laughing, and when he stepped onto the field for MLS Cup in Columbus two weeks later, he did so with the name "Lynda Rose" engraved on his cleats.
The dream came true. Lynda watched the Timbers raise the Cup. She died, surrounded by friends and family, ten days later.
Nat Borchers never wanted to leave Real Salt Lake. Had it been up to him, he would have a retired in Utah. Borchers' first game back at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, where he'd won MLS Cup as a beloved member of RSL, was always bound to be emotional. It ended up being cathartic.
When it came, the August game with Salt Lake was a tight, intense affair. It would end up producing the MLS Save of the Year by Adam Kwarasey on a Luke Mulholland strike, and with both goalkeepers playing exceptionally well, it appeared destined to finish as a highly entertaining 0-0 draw.
Then, in the 95th minute, the Timbers having won a last-gasp corner kick, Borchers leapt onto the end of a Diego Valeri cross and twisted his header off the grass and into the top left hand corner of the goal — beating Nick Rimando, and single-handedly downing his old team in his former home.
It was, simply put, a great sports moment from a great sportsman. Borchers' response — to crumple to the ground in tears — was all too fitting of a man who took the colors he wore and fans he played for as seriously as anyone in the game.
The victory gave the Timbers three crucially important points in an extremely close Western Conference playoff race, but, more importantly, it made Borchers a Timber once and for all.
Four games into the 2015 season, the Timbers were still without a win — and the early returns on Borchers in particular had been mixed.
The club had played well defensively in clean sheets against Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City, but were coming off of a calamitous last-second loss in Vancouver in which Borchers and Liam Ridgewell had misplayed a routine ball and let Robert Earnshaw slip between them to score the game-winning goal.
So, with just two points, the Timbers returned home for a Saturday night game against FC Dallas. The promotional giveaway at Providence Park that night was a cutout of Borchers' face to the first 5,000 fans through the turnstiles. It would prove prescient marketing.
23 minutes into the game, Borchers — left all alone on the back post — headed a Jorge Villafaña corner down and in to give the Timbers the lead. He then raced over to the opposite corner flag, grabbed a cutout of his face from a fan, and proceeded, in the words of play-by-play man Keith Bleyer, to "photobomb himself."
The goal — and celebration — would begin to cement Borchers as a fan favorite at his new club. The Timbers would go on to win the game 3-1, with Borchers and Ridgewell embracing at the final whistle. Those two, and their defense, would never look back.
Nat Borchers was everything you want in a professional athlete: excellent on the field and generous off of it. It's awfully hard to imagine that the Timbers will again count amongst them a player so universally well liked and respected. To the ultimate class act: All the best in retirement.