Borges ‘Looking Forward To The Future’ After National Team Debut
While 2019 saw 21-year-old Forge FC midfielder Tristan Borges wow fans and pundits alike with award-winning performances in the Canadian Premier League, 2020 has been off to quite the start, too.
The Toronto-born attacking midfielder received a national team nod to Herdman’s January camp, where several other youngsters recently participated in two friendly matches against Barbados, with a third match against Iceland due next Wednesday. Yesterday, Borges made his debut for Les Rouges, coming on as a substitute for Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio in the 71st minute.
Borges was among three other debut players for the Canadian national team as the side recorded a 4-1 victory over Barbados, with FC Edmonton defender Amer Didic earning a start and, thus, becoming the first Canadian Premier League player to play for the Canadian national team.
Taking to the pitch to represent your country for the first time is always a tremendous occasion, and it was no different for Tristan. Speaking with Northern Tribune, Borges talked about how this moment had been on his bucket list from even before he turned professional:
It was definitely an honour. My emotions, it’s a little bit hard to explain. Every kid growing up, you dream about this, right? Obviously, you want to play club football at the highest level, but to represent your country at the men’s level is definitely the highest honour you could do for your country, playing a sport, and it’s definitely something that has been on my list since I started playing professional, and even when I was on the verge of trying to make it as a professional. I’m just glad to be a part of it with a great group of guys and a high quality group of guys. I’m just looking forward to the future.Tristan Borges
While Borges has represented Canada at the U-17 and U-20 levels, he never cracked into the Canada U-23 squad. Almost a year after he participated in a Canada U-23 camp in which he failed to break through, the experience of earning a senior national team nod has been quite positive – and he says the current California-based camp has pushed him to keep on improving.
It’s been great. The quality has been very, very high. The guys that are here have been playing pro for quite a while. It’s definitely a great place for me to be at right now, to bring my quality to another step higher. These guys are pushing me every training session, the staff is great. Everything has been top notch and top quality. It’s something that I’m proud to be a part of.Tristan Borges
Canada’s two wins against Barbados were expected, with Herdman squaring up the opponents in an effort to give him the flexibility of giving younger members of the Canadian national team a shot while many of his more veteran players were busy with club duties – after all, the January camp is taking place outside of the regular international breaks.
With players like Alphonso Davies playing (and scoring) for their clubs during the camp, younger players like Tristan Borges, Theo Bair, Jayden Nelson, Noble Okello, Charles-Andreas Brym, Zorhan Bassong, Shamit Shome, and Jacob Shaffelburg have all made their debuts, though it remains to be seen who will be selected to face off against Iceland.
With the third match expected to be the hardest, Tristan was adamant that the Canadian national team camp was brimming with confidence ahead of the clash: John Herdman has evidently instilled an aura of confidence and the belief that the nation can knock any opponent off their perch with the ‘blood, guts, and thunder’ that he asks of his national team members.
The atmosphere has been exciting, I can see that there’s really a shift in Canadian soccer and the future of it. You can see that everybody has bought in on the same mentality and the same structure on the what the future of Canada wants to be a part of. At the same time, we all have the same goal: qualify for the World Cup. You can just see that the mentality within everybody is the same: everybody is positive, everybody has a positive attitude towards every game going into it, and every game we know we can get a result whether the team is a top notch team or a team we know we’re better than.Tristan Borges
As friendlies, the two wins against Barbados only provide a minimal boost in FIFA points as the team pushes itself a little bit closer to breaking into the Hex. Iceland presents a bigger challenge, and with it comes bigger rewards. While it still won’t be enough to see Canada find itself ranked as a top six nation like it was after the historic 2-0 victory over the USA, a result against Iceland would certainly set Les Rouges on the right track.
Of course, it won’t be easy: while Iceland will be without plenty of regulars for the same reason as Canada, the Strakarnir okkar are expected to provide a much more resolute opponent than Barbados. Perhaps more worryingly, Canada failed to keep a clean sheet in both of its January camp matches so far, though Tristan remains resolute that the young squad is confident it can take 39th-ranked Iceland to task.
Every team has different qualities, but at the day end of the day we know our quality and we know that if we put enough effort in and we have the right tactics game-in and game-out, that we can get a result out of it. That’s the confidence throughout the whole team and throughout the whole staff, like I said, I feel like that’s the new culture. I see a lot of positivity into it. You can see all the guys are bought in, and once you have a group of guys that are all on the same page, you never know what can happen.Tristan Borges
Whether Tristan will get a chance against Iceland remains to be seen, with the 21-year-old insisting that he’s just taking things on a day-by-day basis and doing his best to keep improving. The Olympic Qualifiers are approaching, and while Borges says he’d like to be a part of that setup, he’s going to focus on the camp he’s at in the moment – and that’s with the senior national team, preparing for a bout against Iceland.
You never know with the future. I’m not going to say that I’m going to be there, I’m not going to say I’m not going to be there. Nobody knows until it actually happens, right? I think just me being here with the men’s team is a good step for me, and it’s a good time for me to see the quality that we have here, and it’s definitely really high.Tristan Borges
After having a landmark 2019 season, 2020 is certainly off to a good start for the Canadian Premier League’s first-ever golden boot winner. Whether a club from a higher level puts in any offers for Borges remains to be seen, but the youngster didn’t ultimately rule out a prospective move to the MLS or back overseas (‘you never know with any player’, he says).
Borges recognized that he had a good year, and says he’ll keep focused on sticking to his roots and focusing on himself rather than being overwhelmed by the noise that comes with multiple league accolades and a national team nod. For him, the best he says he can do is help his team win by putting in the best individual performances that he can. When asked what would need to happen for him to be satisfied with 2020, there was no real answer beyond winning once again.
I don’t think there’s anything that can help get satisfied for this next year for me, it’s just having the same goals to win the championship, and no matter where I go and where the team goes and what we do, it’s always the same goal and focusing game-in and game-out and having the same mentality. You can see what we did last year worked, and there’s no need on changing anything but just having the right mentality, which I know we’re going to have.Tristan Borges
To that end, Forge FC has re-signed nearly all the players who helped lead the side to a North Star Shield win in the league’s first season, with only Quillan Roberts, Justin Stoddart, and Bertrand Owundi departing at the end of the year, while the likes of Emery Welshman and Jace Kotsopoulos departed midway through the season. That means that the Hamilton-based club currently has 18 players on the roster, leaving head coach Bobby Smyrniotis with ample room to bring in the new attacking talent that he says he’s looking for.
With the club due to participate once more in the CONCACAF League, Smyrniotis will need to give his squad more depth to avoid fatigue as both the Canadian Premier League and Canadian Championship add fixtures to the mix, too. The head coach will invite CPL-U SPORTS draft picks Gabriel Balbinotti and Alex Zis to Forge FC’s preseason camp, which may lead to two early 2020 attacking signings in the hammer.
If Tristan remains a Forge FC player for all of 2020, he’ll certainly be one of the key attackers for the club – and if he does end up leaving, he’ll be proof that the league gives domestic professional players the opportunity to move upwards. For now, of course, Borges is solely focused on his national team camp – and rightfully so.
Canada will face Iceland on January 15. Interested fans can tune in to a livestream of the match on the Canada Soccer website.
Header Image Credit: Canada Soccer