Former U.S. international Hernan "Chico" Borja, who starred for the New York Cosmos in the NASL's last years, has died at the age of 61 after an extended battle with cancer.
Borja was born in Ecuador and moved to New Jersey as a teenager. He starred at NJIT, then an NCAA Division III program, before joining the Cosmos in 1981. In three seasons, he had 17 goals and 13 assists for the Cosmos. He spent the 1983 NASL season with Team America.
After the NASL folded, Borja spent 10 seasons indoors, eight with the Wichita Wings, where he was a huge star.
“A terrific player and personality,” former Wings general manager Bill Kentling told the Wichita Story. "I thought by this point he would be governor of New Jersey."
Borja earned 11 caps for the USA in an international career that spanned 1982-88. He started for the USA at the 1984 Olympics, where it drew huge crowds.
He started for the national team in the game that turned the program around -- a 3-0 win over Canada in 1987 to erase a 2-0 deficit from the first leg that put the USA on the road to qualifying for the 1988 Olympics.
In the Canada match, Borja was the only player with ties to the NASL, which folded less than three years earlier. The rest of the players were mostly young college kids from places like UCLA, Virginia, Clemson and Indiana. With an Olympic bid in sight and no place for the young players to play professionally, U.S. Soccer took the bold step of paying its players to keep them together.
In 1992, Borja represented the USA at the 1992 FIFA 5-a-side world championship, where it lost to Brazil in the final.
In a story on his post-playing career, the Houston Chronicle reported that Borja's childhood idol when he was growing up in Quito was Mike Brady of "The Brady Bunch," so he wanted to be an architect when he moved to the United States.
But after retiring as a player, Borja coached the women's team at Rockhurst University in Kansas City and then moved to Texas, where he was a middle-school Spanish teacher, and later Florida, where he coached high school soccer and golf and was an assistant principal.