He didn't dazzle at a big college or tear it up in the A-League. Never has he played for a U.S. team at any age level. Most domestic fans couldn't even name the conference in which his college team plays.
Nat Borchers isn't the only one to jump from the Premier Development League (PDL) level this season, but he's by far the most accomplished.
Since he moved alongside veteran defender Robin Fraser in early June, the Rapids have reversed a miserable run of results. Losers of five of their first seven, they vaulted into second place by winning eight and tying three of their next 15 games.
Several pieces have fallen into place to trigger the Rapids' revival, but a rookie who is tough in the air, decent on the ball and rarely makes mistakes has filled a large gap.
Borchers played his college ball at the University of Denver (Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) and also turned out regularly for the PDL Boulder Rapids Reserves, who scrimmaged the Rapids every week. Undrafted, Borchers was signed to a developmental contract by Colorado in March.
He started out in midfield, which is where he finished his college career after playing sweeper the first three seasons. His MLS debut in May was a disaster: a 4-0 loss to Chicago. One of the goals resulted from a penalty kick whistled for a Borchers foul.
Two weeks later, Borchers was on the bench for the first game played at the Home Depot Center. But early in the game, second-year defender Jeff Stewart went down with a torn ACL.
''A lot of the players were saying Pablo [Mastroeni] should move into the back,'' says Coach Tim Hankinson. ''But I said, 'Let's stick to our plan to put Nat in there.'''
Colorado lost the game, 2-0, but had found a central defender.
''I was a little nervous,'' says Borchers, whose size (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) and power in the air complement well the savvy and experience of Fraser. ''I think I've toned down a little bit. With Scotty [Garlick] and Robin back there telling me what to do, I feel a lot more comfortable.''
At Denver, he played for former Dallas Burn midfielder Chad Ashton. With Colorado, he can turn to Rapids assistant coach and former U.S. international Steve Trittschuh. And right off his shoulder, he has Fraser.
''He's been very steady, which for a center back is a great quality,'' says Fraser.
by Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney