Jonathan Bornstein has a side gig.
For about a year now, the Chicago Fire defender has quietly been working as a volunteer assistant coach with the Northwestern University men’s soccer team, and he says it’s been a big shock to his system.
“The biggest surprise is I’m still constantly getting new surprises!” Bornstein tells Hot Time in Old Town with a laugh. “It’s completely different than playing. The mentality of what it is to be a coach is a lot different than being out there as a player.”
Bornstein needed to find a team to coach in order to take a “B License” coaching course through U.S. Soccer. He had planned on working with the Chicago Fire Academy’s U-13 team, until one day last year when new NU coach Russell Payne came out to watch Fire training. Bornstein says he was going to ask Payne if he needed an assistant, but Payne actually beat him to it.
“In that little time, we both had the same idea. It sort of serendipitously just happened,” Bornstein says.
A normal coach would start with grassroots courses, then progress to a D License, a C License, and then on to the B course. But Bornstein’s amount of pro and national team experience let him bypass the lower courses, and he was able to jump straight into the B, which he finished not too long ago.
With Bornstein’s soccer résumé—he played in the 2010 World Cup, after all—he could have gone into the process thinking he had nothing to learn. Instead, he found the course, which was taught by U.S. Soccer’s Antal Vergeer, fascinating.
“That’s just not how I live my life, where I think I know more than anybody,” he says. “The famous Socrates quote, ‘The only thing I know is that I know nothing’—if you’re gonna be learning about something, that’s the best way to take it from the beginning.
“A lot of us think, oh, I played for a long time, I could handle coaching. But it’s a whole new world. I think starting from scratch with that has really humbled me. It’s also taught me a lot about the playing side as well, understanding why we do the certain things we do. As players you just go out and react to everything. As coach, you have to consciously be creating all of these situations for the players.”
The B License process is a massive amount of work, both on the field and in the classroom. Bornstein ran training sessions for the NU team, and even coached half of them in a scrimmage game for one of the big assignments.
“I took my team, and Russell took his team, and we just played,” Bornstein says. “It was awesome. It was actually the most fun I had in the course. I was in charge of my own entire team.”
He was able to focus on the coursework because his wife, Juliana, who Bornstein calls his “hero,” is back home in Mexico taking care of their kids and running her law firm. That gave Jonny the free time he needed to grind out his coursework while he wasn’t playing for the Fire.
“It was time for her to be able to be there on site, the kids are starting school in Mexico, so they’re there,” he explains. “So I knew I was going to be able to be by myself. I decided this is the perfect time to do it. I could train hard, rest well, have time to do the assignments, and focus on all the things I needed to do.”
Bornstein is considering working on an A License should a course open up that works with his schedule. Does this mean he’ll be a coach after his playing career is over?
“I think so. I think it’s a natural progression for some players at this point in their careers. For me, personally, I wanted to get that B (license) under my belt, start learning what it really entails. I’m liking it. I can’t say it’ll be my dream job in the future, but it’s something I am enjoying learning and doing.”
Bornstein is 37, making him one of the oldest players in MLS. He wants to play until he’s at least 40, and maybe then it’s time to start looking at a full transition to coaching. For now, though, you can call him “Jonny B License.”
“I would like to send a big shout out to Russell Payne, the rest of the coaching staff, and all the Northwestern Men’s Soccer athletes,” he said. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of such a great institution. Keep up the hard work and never give up!”