The Portland Timbers got some bad news on Monday. Bearded defender Nat Borchers is done for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. This rough realization comes at an interesting time in Portland’s season. Saturday’s loss to LA Galaxy closed a nine match unbeaten run. They were back in a playoff spot. They were beginning to find their counterattacking style again, headlined by Lucas Melano’s speed. The only thing that hand’t turned itself around yet as defending. Now, with Nat Borchers out for the season, there are even more questions surrounding this beleaguered unit.
Will they miss Nat Borchers?
The truth is, Borchers has had himself a rough year. The 35-year-old bearded wonder is beginning to show his age. Through 21 matches in 2016, he was clearing fewer balls, committing more fouls, and blocking fewer shots than he did last season. He was looking slow, even when at full strength. Younger, more skilled players were getting around him with more ease than before.
Contrast this with say, Jermaine Taylor. Taylor is a more versatile player who is capable of replicating the numbers Borchers puts up while allowing more tactical flexibility. He still has enough in him to cut in front of the quick youth that dominates the top of the Western Conference. He has better vision for seeking out and picking off passes. He’s also a better facilitator of counter attacks thanks to his experience playing out wide. Portland’s strength is its ability to hit hard on the counter, and good passing defenders are needed to get that started.
The player Portland needs more than Borchers is all-star and oft injured defender Liam Ridgewell. He comes with the experience of Borchers, the instinct of Taylor, and the leadership needed to keep the whole defensive group organized. He’s the real centerpiece of the back line when healthy. The team captain just can’t seem to shake a lingering calf injury. He’s only featured in 13 matches this year while rarely looking fully fit.
How do they fill the hole?
So, while Nat Borchers going down for the count is far from a good sign for Portland, things could certainly be much worse. There is plenty of depth around right now that has shown promise. Jermaine Taylor is just as effective of a defensive partner to Liam Ridgewell as Borchers ever was. If the team doesn’t feel safe with that pair back there, the summer transfer window still has a couple weeks left for them to pick somebody up
Grabbing a younger defender off the transfer market wouldn’t be a bad idea regardless of how Portland plans to handle this injury. Their back line doesn’t have much of a future in front of it. Borchers is 35. Ridgewell is 32. Taylor is 31. The only kid they have back there who might be first team ready is Amobi Okugo. He is only 25 and has played 46 non-stellar minutes in MLS this season.
Taylor is a solid short term solution. Thinking about the future isn’t going to hurt, but they will have to look to the transfer market to do so, since Okugo isn’t ready for consistent first team minutes
Overall, losing Nat Borchers for the season doesn’t look good at first glance. However, there are trusty options behind him and plenty of time to scour the market for someone else. For all we know, with Borchers’ age becoming a real factor this year, this situation could be seen as a blessing in disguise that will allow the Portland defense to grow, get better, and help 2016 become a successful year.
Main Photo: Shaun Clark, Getty Images Sport