FRISCO, Texas – Nat Borchers showed up in the right place at the right time for the Portland Timbers.
In the 92nd minute, the Portland Timbers clung to a one-goal aggregate-goal advantage in their Western Conference Championship decider against FC Dallas. And that's when Dallas' Blas Perez unleashed a stinging shot from close range, that would have almost certainly tied the game and sent the series to extra time.
Instead, Borchers slid in at the last second to deflect the shot out for a corner. Minutes later, Portland would take the ball back down the field and seal their first trip to MLS Cup with a goal from Lucas Melano.
“It was just a reaction for sure,” Borchers told reporters after the game. “They were at us a lot at the end of that half and I think we were just really bunkered in, and obviously I just had to make a quick decision and somehow make a block.”
It was the second crucial stoppage-time intervention from Borchers in the series against Dallas. The 33-year-old center back also netted what turned out to be a critical goal for the Timbers in the 91st minute of the first leg in Portland to hand them a 3-1 win. Without that insurance, the Timbers and Dallas could well have been headed to extra time a week later.
The two decisive plays in the Conference Championship series were just the latest chapters in a strong first Timbers season for Borchers, who formed a strong partnership with Liam Ridgewell–and on Sunday, Norberto Paparatto–to tighten up a previously leaky Portland backline.
“It’s absolutely massive for us,” Jack Jewsbury said of the effect Borchers’ addition has had on the team. “I think we knew that coming in, that we needed to stabilize the backline.
“And that’s him in a nutshell. Unbelievable pro, even better person and you see in the final few minutes he makes that big stop on Blas Perez and to be honest, that changes the whole series.”
Borchers himself noted that the block was a positive finish to an otherwise tough outing for him.
“It felt good,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I don’t think I had a very good game otherwise, so I had to come up big for my team.”
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The veteran defender has already come up big on notable occasions, but the biggest occasion now lies ahead: MLS Cup at Columbus Crew SC on Dec. 6. It is there that Borchers’ experience may matter most, considering that he won an MLS Cup in 2009 with Real Salt Lake and returned to the title game with RSL in 2013, only for the team to fall on penalties.
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter believes that experience and confidence could prove crucial in next weekend’s game. “When you have that feeling of winning a trophy you have that kind of confidence,” he said. “We have guys in that locker room that have that confidence and we believe that we’re the best team."