Bottjer on Canada: Borjan rises to challenge

October 1, 2012, 12:36 AM

With Canada’s next World Cup qualifying match against Cuba less than two weeks away, Canadian fans are likely keeping a close eye on how a number of national team players are performing over in Europe.

Given that Dwayne De Rosario is out with a long-term injury and with Canada struggling to score, the performances of offensive players such as Olivier Occean, Atiba Hutchinson and Simeon Jackson are under the microscope even more than usual.

On the defensive side of things, one Canadian player who has started his 2012-12 European club campaign in an impressive fashion is goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

In three appearances with Turkish side Sivasspor, the 24-year-old shot stopper has a record of one win, one loss and one draw. Borjan has only given up one goal in a close loss to Trabzonspor and has already earned two clean sheets in a draw against Super Lig superpower Fenerbahce and in a 1-0 win over second place side Kasimpasa.

What’s truly impressive about Borjan’s performances to date is the manner in which he has bounced back from what was a rough start to his club career in Turkey in 2011. The young ‘keeper had trouble adjusting to a new league and basically found himself in limbo at the end of the last calendar year. Consequently, Sivasspor ended up loaning the personable and talented youngster to Romanian side FC Vaslui.

That move now looks to have paid major dividends for both teams and the player himself. Borjan arrived in Romania when the Vaslui was sitting in sixth place. He immediately took over as starting ‘keeper for the 16 remaining league games and played a key role in Vaslui’s surge to a second place finish and a qualification for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in club history.

That run of play with Vaslui in conjunction with his impressive start to the current campaign with Sivasspor realistically places Borjan as one of Canada’s top performers in Europe over the past year.

Furthermore, he has shown excellent character and professionalism in not letting the disappointment that surely came with missing out on the opportunity to remain in Romania to play in the Champions League with Vaslui to put a black cloud over his return to his Turkish club.

At the international level, the six-feet-four Borjan is now firmly in the mix for a starting spot for the Canada. While the CONCACAF experience that Lars Hirschfeld has gained competing for his country over the years likely has him in the pole position to start the next two World Cup qualifying matches against Cuba and Honduras, his younger teammate has quickly risen to the spot of option 1A in the Canadian ‘keeper pool.

And while the only focus at the moment for Canadian coach Stephen Hart are these two games in October, it’s important to note that Borjan is not only a player capable of playing a big role in the current qualifying campaign, but that he could still develop his game further and become a regular performer for the national team program for years to come.

With two scoreless appearances in World Cup qualifying already to his credit, Borjan’s best years are still well ahead of him, especially given the fact that goalkeepers do not usually peak until their late twenties and early thirties.

It’s been pointed out many times that Canada’s last big success on the international stage came when Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer Craig Forrest played a fundamental role in the Reds winning the 2000 Gold Cup. Many people are now raving about Borjan’s talent and potential and see him as a player who could reach the high levels that Forrest achieved in an illustrious career at both the club and international levels.

Thus, regardless of whether or not the rising goalkeeper plays a role in Canada’s next two matches, Canadian soccer fans should keep an eye on Borjan’s development in the Eurasian football hotbed that is Turkey, as he is likely to be a player who will be a core performer for Canada in future World Cup qualifying campaigns, as well.


Steve Bottjer is a Toronto-based writer, podcaster and editor for RedNation Online, on online magazine covering all aspects of Canadian soccer. Follow RedNation Online on Twitter.

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