I really liked Felix Borja in 2014 with Chivas USA. So did head coach Wilmer Cabrera, apparently.
The Ecuadorian, who joined the club in August on loan from LDU Quito, was a fixture in the lineup the rest of the season, as he started in the final 12 games of the season. In some ways, he proved to be a solid replacement of sorts for Erick Torres, who missed his only games of his Chivas USA career late on as he was with the Mexican national team and had to deal with a suspension. Borja's goals total did not come close to Cubo's, of course, but he was without a doubt the second-best forward on the team after his arrival.
Even better, perhaps, was that Borja and Torres formed a good partnership together, especially late on as their chemistry eventually led to goals, something the Goats were struggling for. And it wasn't Cubo, who was on a late-season scoring slump, but Borja who was grabbing the goals, as he scored all three of his goals with the club in the final four games (and all of those goals were winners, to boot).
Here were Borja's statistics with CUSA:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||12||12||1,009||3||0||24||12||0||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
What made the 31-year-old so effective in his loan stint? He has experience in a variety of leagues (in Ecuador, Greece, Germany and Mexico prior to MLS) and was able to deal with MLS' patented physicality very well. Add to that his one elite skill, as a remarkable header of the ball, and even when Chivas were struggling in games, as they were after his arrival in August and September, he was still able to play a target role up top, trying to knock down long balls, to relieve pressure on Chivas' defense and to potentially even start an attack.
One can quibble with the actual production, as three goals in 12 games isn't a sparkling scoring rate (though to be fair, I think he should have been credited with a fourth goal, against the Seattle Sounders, that was officially scored as an own goal, and in a separate game against Seattle, he had a PK attempt waived off by teammate Ryan Finley, who refused to give up the ball and took it himself. So that could have been five goals in 12, potentially). Honestly, I'm grading on a bit of a curve here, considering how weak Chivas' attacking options were beyond Cubo. Maybe on another MLS team, Borja would have looked more middling, I don't know.
Or maybe he could have been even more impressive had he played for a team with better support in attack. Though Borja could head the ball as well as anybody in MLS (he's not nicknamed "the kangaroo" for nothing), his goals were all of the poacher variety. With better service and more options to occupy defenders, and/or more time to develop his chemistry with Cubo, Borja might have been one of the more promising newcomers to the league. I wish he had been brought over at the start of the season, since as it happened, nobody was paying attention to Chivas players other than Torres by October, when Borja was really finding his stride.
Borja will always hold a place in Chivas USA lore as the last player to ever score a goal for the club, as he bagged the winner in the finale vs. the San Jose Earthquakes. Hold that in your back pocket for your super-nerd soccer trivia nights.
Since he was on loan, I'm guessing MLS teams in part stayed away from taking Borja in any of the player acquisition drafts the past month because of the purchase option. If he doesn't get another shot in MLS, I think that would be a shame. Yes, he's not a prospect, but the 2006 World Cup veteran has experience, including now in MLS, and I think he can be a good support and/or depth striker for a number of teams in the league.
In the end, Chivas USA shutting up shop potentially stopped Borja's progress in a new situation dead in its tracks, Sure, we don't know if the Goats would have purchased his contract, either. But he was off to a promising start, and hit his stride perhaps a bit too late for his own good. For a veteran who's probably seen it all, playing for a team that folded in the first division was probably one of the oddest experiences of his career to date. It's just too bad he couldn't have established himself as a fixture in the Goats' lineup for seasons to come, through no fault of his own.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!