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Jonathan Bornstein: The Chicago Fire veteran in the middle of a youth movement

“To be still competing with those young guys, it makes me feel young, and I don’t feel like they’re stepping over me.”

Jonathan Bornstein at Chicago Fire training this week
Chicago Fire FC

Jonathan Bornstein has seen a lot in his 16 seasons as a professional soccer player.

At the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he was subbed off in the 80th minute against Algeria, and watched Landon Donovan’s late winner from the sideline. At Queretaro in Mexico, played a season with Ronaldinho. His 2009 stoppage time header against Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying gave the USMNT a 2-2 draw, and, weirdly, made him a national hero in Honduras. He even spent a season playing in Israel.

Heck, Bornstein has been around so long, he was teammates at Chivas USA with his now-coach, Raphael Wicky. But out of all those experiences, nothing could have prepared him for last season. The pandemic, the stops-and-starts, the empty stadiums. It was one of his weirdest experiences as a player.

“I mean, it was probably top three for sure, if not the number one spot,” Bornstein said. “There were so many challenges that we were dealing with not only on the field in terms of soccer but life in general.”

Now, he finds himself playing on a Fire team that’s certainly among the youngest teams in Major League Soccer. Sporting director Georg Heitz has a stated goal of making the team younger, shedding veterans like CJ Sapong and Micheal Azira in favor of youngsters like Stanislav Ivanov, Chinonso Offor, and Jhon Espinoza. The average age of the team is now less than 24 years old.

There are more teenagers on the Fire’s roster than guys in their 30s—Johan Kappelhof (30), Bobby Shuttleworth (33), Kenneth Kronholm (35), and then there’s Bornstein, who is 36.

“To be still competing with those young guys, it makes me feel young, and I don’t feel like they’re stepping over me,” Bornstein said. “I feel like I’m always competing with them, if not helping them to just raise their level. I try to be that experienced older player who can lead by example. I like to tell them if I can do all the running, if I can be competing every day, trying to get better every day, then there’s no excuses for them that they shouldn’t be able to do the same thing.“

Bornstein will likely split time again with fellow left back Miguel Navarro, who just turned 22. If Bornstein plays the mentor role too well, there’s a chance Navarro will pass him up on the depth chart. But, Bornstein’s not worried about that. He’s here to help the team, and he’s not planning on wrapping up his playing career anytime soon.

“I’m hoping to play until I’m at least 40,” Bornstein said. “That’s my new goal. If I keep myself fit, keep myself going, hopefully that can come to fruition.”