Questions around Borges’ future underline interesting issue for CPL

Should he stay or should he go?

That’s the question hanging over Tristan Borges this winter, and many will be looking on with keen interest to see how he answers, because as the Forge FC midfielder contemplates his future, the fallout for the Canadian Premier League could be significant.

Borges enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019, winning the Golden Boot with 13 goals, finishing among the league leaders in assists, and playing a key role in helping Forge hoist the North Star Shield.

For his efforts, Borges took home some more hardware at last week’s CPL Awards ceremony, where he collected the Player of the Year and Best Canadian Under-21 Player of the Year honours.

No doubt that Borges’ stellar form caught the attention of clubs in other leagues, which raises the issue of whether he’ll be back for Forge next year. That question was put directly to Borges at the awards ceremony – a question he was coy in answering.

“We’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see,” Borges replied with a smile when asked if he would return to Forge in 2020.

It’s clear that Borges is a talented Canadian prospect who at some point will move on from the CPL. Whether that happens now or later remains to be seen. Still, the Borges situation underlines what will likely become a growing trend, and at the same time an interesting problem for the CPL: Players moving on to greener pastures.

The CPL was designed, in large part, to develop young Canadian talent and give them playing opportunities they otherwise might not receive either in MLS or abroad, thus preventing them from falling through the cracks.

After being on the books at the youth academy of Dutch club SC Heerenveen, Borges returned to Canada in the summer of 2018 to play for semi-pro outfit Sigma FC in League1 Ontario. That led to Borges signing his first professional contract with Forge in January, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In many ways, Borges is the textbook case of what is supposed to happen in the CPL – an unheralded youngster who didn’t get a chance when he moved to Europe comes home and makes the most of the opportunity, using the platform to take the next step in his career.

So, the system works, right? Well … yes and no. There are both positives and pitfalls should Borges leave Forge this off-season.

Forge FC's Tristan Borges, left, celebrates scoring against Cavalry FC. (CPL)
Forge FC’s Tristan Borges, left, celebrates scoring against Cavalry FC. (CPL)

On the one hand, if Borges was to be sold and move on to a bigger league this winter, it would be a major source of validation for Forge who took a chance in signing him.

It would also prove to be hugely beneficial to the league. If more talented, unproven Canadians are going to join the CPL and help to strengthen it, they first need to see evidence that they can progress in their careers. The potential sale of Borges would serve as the ultimate example for young Canadians who aspire to eventually play at the highest levels of the club game – that the CPL can serve as a gateway for them to earn greater opportunities.

On the other hand, it would be a shame if the CPL loses the services of Borges after a single season. The Toronto native not only spearheaded Forge’s attack, but he also proved to be a dynamic attacking player, providing plenty of entertainment for CPL fans from coast-to-coast every time he stepped onto the pitch.

The league is still in its infancy and trying to find its footing in the greater sporting landscape in this country. Losing one of its top stars – in fact, its MVP – would be a big blow.

There’s also the question of whether or not moving on from the CPL would be the best thing for Borges at this time.

The Forge midfielder only turned 21 in August, and is still in the early stages of his professional development. There’s no denying he enjoyed a great 2019, but there’s an argument to be made that he could benefit from playing another season in the CPL.

Canadian soccer is littered with examples of young players (most recently, Cyle Larin and Doneil Henry) who made the “big move” too early in their careers and saw their progress stunted because they didn’t get a chance to play regular first-team soccer.

The last thing anybody wants to see is Borges leave for another club, whether it’s somewhere in Europe or in MLS, and simply languish on the bench. He needs to be playing on a regular basis, and there’s no guarantee of that if he leaves Forge this off-season. Surely, Borges would be on more solid ground with another year in the CPL under his belt, thus bolstering his chances of making the right move to his next club.

Plus, as players such as Marco Carducci, Dominick Zator, and Amer Didic showed us this season, a path to the Canadian men’s national team is possible for regular contributors in the Canadian Premier League. So, the carrot isn’t dangling on another stick, as it were.

Ultimately, time will tell what’s next for Tristan Borges, whether he joins another team or he returns to Forge FC in 2020. But it’ll be fascinating to watch how the Borges saga plays out in the off-season, and what the ramifications might be for the CPL.

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