Tristan Borges’ first call-up to the Canadian men’s team felt more like an inevitability than a surprise.
When the news came down Friday that the 21-year-old Forge FC star will join John Herdman’s squad in California this month, his name did not look out of place on the list of — predominantly young — Canadians that will do battle with Barbados and Iceland in a series of friendlies
Indeed, what was one of the first things to go through Borges’ head when he heard?
“A sigh of relief, a little bit. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do ever since growing up,” Borges told CanPL.ca. “It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about over the full year, coming back to play in Canada.”
Borges added that Herdman phoned him recently, which suggested that his inclusion on this roster was a possibility. From then, he had only to wait with bated breath for the news.
There will be a number of familiar faces for Borges down in California, with players he’s met while playing for Canada at youth level, as well as CPL adversaries Marco Carducci and Amer Didic. Still, it’s been two years since he attended a national team camp in any form, and three years since he played a game in a Canada shirt.
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For his resurgence, he credits the new opportunity afforded by the CPL. Having made the choice to return home from Dutch side Heerenveen’s youth system, Borges dropped jaws on a weekly basis for Forge with his 13 goals and five assists in 2019. He emerged from his first pro season with the league’s Golden Boot and Player of the Year award.
“I’m not totally shocked by how my year went,” Borges admitted. “I knew what I can do, I knew I just needed a little bit more luck on my side.”
Having reaped the benefits of coming home to Canada, Borges sees his Canadian call-up as further evidence of the impact the CPL has had already.
“Coming back and playing the year here, this was the goal,” he said. “Not just for ourselves, but for the people that started the CPL — the organizations, the clubs, and just everybody. The whole plan is to produce players to play with the men’s national team. We finally have our professional league here.”
More specifically, of course, Borges attributes his 2019 success to his experience at Forge. He was quick to stress that he’ll be at this camp “on behalf of my club,” adding that it’s an honour to represent Forge (fodder for the transfer speculators out there, perhaps?).
With key attacking players such as Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies, and Lucas Cavallini absent from this camp, the door seems open to Borges to make CPL history by taking the pitch in a real international friendly.
In fact, he could make the starting 11, depending on how Herdman deploys his squad over three matches.
“Every player always thinks that (they should start), you’ve always got to have confidence in yourself,” Borges stated. “No matter where you go, you have to prove yourself, and you have to fight for your spot. I’m not going into it seeing if I’m gonna get a starting spot or not, I’m already grateful for the opportunity.”
Still, with his attacking flair and ability to play in several positions across the field, Borges has a lot going for him. Also to his credit, the world hasn’t seen a fully healthy Tristan Borges for a few months, which is the player who will attend this camp.
Although it’s been a couple months since the season ended, Borges isn’t worried about rust — rather, he’s glad for the chance to recover after a season in which he battled injuries constantly. Unbeknownst to the world at large, he’s been hard at work the past month.
“The first couple weeks of off-season you take it off and you take it slow, but I’m trying to stay fit as much as I can on my own, trying to do a lot of extra work without people really knowing, trying to do it off the field and keep it quiet,” Borges explained.
“Even when you’re in the season, it’s hard to really be 100 per cent match fit. … In terms of injuries, I’m perfectly good from that point.”
So, with his health as good as it’s been in months, Borges is confident he can make a name for himself in Herdman’s January camp. Although some of the national team’s top names won’t be there, Borges hopes to foster some chemistry with the talented players in attendance — especially those he might meet again in March with Canada’s U-23 side as they try to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“If I get selected for the U-23 squad, I’ll be ready,” Borges said.
“Being able to participate in such a great team with such a great future ahead, it’s definitely something I’m proud of.”