MICHIGAN TO THE MLS: Kearny’s Borges gets selected by Colorado Rapids

When Marcello Borges was just a student at Franklin School in Kearny, he would join his friends during his lunch period and fantasize about the future.

“We would go to Harvey Field for about 20 minutes of our lunch period and we would pretend we were playing soccer in the MLS,” Borges said. “When you’re a kid, that’s what you do. You dream about playing in the league.”

And Borges’ friends would constantly tell him that he was destined for greatness.

“They would say that they always knew I had the best chance to make it,” Borges said.

However, when Borges got to Kearny High School, he wasn’t destined for greatness.

“I was about 4-foot-10 as a freshman and I weighed about 100 pounds,” Borges said. “I didn’t make the varsity team. I played freshman with Scott Millar. It reminded me of the Michael Jordan story, how he wasn’t good enough to make his varsity team as a freshman.”

Borges had an incredible growth spurt.

“I grew like eight inches in four months,” Borges said. “Between my freshman and sophomore years, I grew a lot and that really helped.”

Borges moved up to varsity with the Kardinals, but for only a short time.

“I played like three games with the varsity,” Borges said.

But at the same time, Borges was already discovered by the Red Bulls Academy and he had to make a tough decision.

“The (NJSIAA) rules said that I couldn’t play both high school and academy, so I had to make a choice,” Borges said. “I chose the Academy at the time. I thought it was the smart move. My parents supported me and told me to go to the Academy.”

As it was, it turned out to be a brilliant move, because from the Red Bulls Academy, Borges was able to secure a spot on the United States National 18-and-under, then 20-and-under teams. He was also able to secure a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he played and excelled.

And last Friday, the long-time dream became a reality. Some 10 years after crossing Schuyler Avenue to play soccer with his buddies and dream of the future, Marcello Borges became a professional soccer player.

Borges was selected in the second round (28th overall) by the Colorado Rapids in the Major League Soccer Superdraft held in Chicago.

Borges was on hand for the selection process, then returned home to Kearny for a brief stint, before joining the Rapids in preparation for the 2019 season later this month.

The standout defender knew that he had a good chance of being taken in the draft.

“After the college season ended (at Michigan), I had multiple conversations with my coaches, who told me I could get selected,” Borges said. “Then I was invited to the MLS Combine, where all the top players go. That’s when I knew I had a good chance of getting drafted. Based on my past experience with the U.S. National team, I knew I had a shot.”

As the draft began, Borges had no idea where he would be headed or when he would get to hear his name called.

“Going into it, I obviously looked at all the MLS mock drafts that were out there, but honestly, I didn’t know when,” Borges said. “I just sat there with an open mind. It’s not like the NBA Draft, where players go. I just sat there hearing name after name and then I started to become a little more tense.”

But when he heard the Colorado Rapids and his name being called, the transition was indeed complete. That little undersized kid who used to spend his lunch hours at Harvey Field kicking and dreaming finally became a pro.

“Once I heard my name called, everything came off my shoulders,” Borges said. “I’m excited to get picked by the Rapids. I spoke to the GM (general manager Padraig Smith) and head coach (Anthony Hudson) and they’re excited for me to show my ability and see what I can do. I’m excited to be a part of their history.”

The Rapids have one of the youngest rosters in the MLS so the 21-year-old Borges will fit right in.

“It’s nice to have peers my own age,” Borges said. “Like any rookie, I have to gain the respect of my new teammates. For now, I’m just going to get ready for the preseason and see what happens. I’m not worried about it too much.”

But there’s no doubt about Borges’ heritage and his hometown.

“When people ask me where I’m from and I say Kearny, they ask me ‘Where’s that?’” Borges said. “I tell them to Google ‘Soccertown, USA’ and see what it says. I’m proud to be part of that history and heritage. There are some excellent guys to come out of this town. I definitely have something to live up to.”
Borges becomes the first Kearny native to go to the MLS since former Observer Male Athlete of the Year Hugh MacDonald was signed by the New York MetroStars in 2007. MacDonald is currently the assistant coach to another Kearny native Rob McCourt at Monmouth University.

And how did Borges celebrate his day in the sun?
Well, when he came home over the weekend, he went to dinner with the same group of guys he used to play soccer with at Harvey Field when he was a Franklin School student.

“Those friends I’ve had when I was 10 years old are still friends with me today,” Borges said. “They’ve moved on to their own lives, but it will be nice to catch up with them. It’s every little boy’s dream to become a pro soccer player. I can’t begin to put into words the feeling of happiness I have. I’ve achieved something I worked so hard for.”

Borges and the Colorado Rapids come to Red Bull Arena on August 31. You can be rest assured there will be a solid local turnout for that contest, when a local boy returns home as a professional soccer player.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”