By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jan 30, 2017) US Soccer Players – While many American players dream of signing with a European club, some are living out their ambition of playing abroad by crossing our southern border. A growing number of Americans have signed with Liga MX clubs in recent years. The number of Americans currently in Mexico's top flight – including former MLS stars Omar Gonzalez and Luis Gil – currently stands at a robust 18. That’s more than those playing in the top divisions of England or Germany.
Liga MX is the most-competitive domestic competition in CONCACAF – without taking anything away from Major League Soccer – and draws players from across the Americas. It also garners high TV ratings in this country on Spanish-language networks. The proximity to the United States, its exposure on television, and the Mexican roots of many players have all made Liga MX an option for Americans. Case in point: Jonathan Bornstein. The former Chivas USA defender left MLS for Mexico in July 2010 when he signed with the Monterrey-based Tigres UANL.
After an unsuccessful spell at the club, Bornstein joined Atlante on loan in 2014. That led to a second loan in 2014, this time to Queretaro. It was there that Bornstein’s Liga MX fortunes changed. Bornstein signed a permanent contract with Queretaro in June 2015. Queretaro, located in the middle of the country, is one of Mexico's 32 states. Queretaro has mostly been a mid-table club with ambitions of getting involved in the title race and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League. In 2015, the team reached the Clausura final on a Bornstein goal, only to lose the title to Santos Laguna. They finished 11th in the 2016 Apertura.
Bornstein was born in Southern California to a Jewish father and Mexican mother. He’s earned 32 caps for the USMNT since making his debut a decade ago, scoring twice. His most-famous goal was the last-gasp equalizer in October 2009 at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC against Costa Rica on the final day of World Cup Qualifying. The US's 2-2 draw sent Honduras to the 2010 World Cup, ahead of Costa Rica in the final Hexagonal standings and turning Bornstein into a folk hero (more on that later) in the Central American nation.
Bornstein got plenty of playing time under former US coach Bob Bradley, but not under Jurgen Klinsmann. As the United States prepares to resume its quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Bornstein hopes to get back into the National Team fold under Bruce Arena. We caught up with Bornstein, where he talked about his time in Mexico, connecting with his mom's heritage, and how he hopes club success can translate into a National Team spot.
What has it been like to play in Mexico the past few years and what are your hopes for the Clausura season?
The last few years have gone well. We have two off seasons a year, so this past winter we went to Cancun with my family for a little bit. I think the team has prepared well for the season since last season did not go well. Overall, I think this team is pretty solid and deep. We are strong enough to field two teams. I think Queretaro are well prepared and can compete.
What was it like when you first moved to Mexico?
When I first got here, the situation was different. It was difficult. I didn’t speak Spanish. I had to learn the language. I was alone. I didn’t get any playing time. As a player, you want to be on the field. Now it’s going well.
You are half Mexican. How have you reconnected with your heritage since moving to Mexico?
My mom was from Mexico. My parents divorced when I was three and I grew up with my dad. There was no Spanish spoken in the home. One of the reasons I decided to play in Mexico was because I could be considered a Mexican, not a foreigner. That was a big plus. At the time, there was a limit on foreigners of five per team. At the same time, I did connect with my mom’s side, through the food and culture. I feel a lot more Mexican now and I have grown a lot as a player and as a person.
You may feel more Mexican now, but you're a USMNT player. What do you think of Bruce Arena’s appointment as coach and do you hope to return to the US lineup?
It is my goal every day to get back to the National Team. I’ve been shooting for that. Bruce Arena knows how I plat from my time in MLS. I know the January camp included only MLS players, but I hope to get the chance to get called up for World Cup Qualifying. There will be several opportunities over the next few months.
You also play left back, a position the US has needed some stability in. Is that an added bonus for you?
Playing left back is a plus for me. We have not had a consistent player at that position for a number of years. I just need the opportunity.
How are Liga MX and MLS different? How are they the same?
One of the biggest differences, I believe, is that Mexican players are more technical. They are better at passing and one-two touches. MLS is stronger defensively. They tackle harder. I know that Mexican teams have gotten the better of MLS in the past few years in CONCACAF competition. I believe both leagues are great. As someone who had played in both, I can honestly say that. MLS has been growing rapidly in the six years since I’ve been gone. Both are great. I’m happy to have played in both.
I’m sure you don’t miss the traveling MLS teams have to deal with. Do Mexican teams travel a lot?
Not at all! The longest flight we have here is about 2½ hours to Tijuana since we are centrally located. I played for Chivas USA and I don’t miss those six-hour flights across the country to New York or Boston.
The biggest goal of your career may very well have been the one you scored in 2009 on the last day of the Hexagonal for the US that helped Honduras qualify for the World Cup. Do people still bring that goal up to you?
It’s kind of a funny thing. The buzz from that goal has since died down, but people still would mention it to me in 2014. For four years, between 2010 and 2014, people on Facebook who cheered for Honduras would write to thank me. It was pretty surreal. I was pretty fortunate to have been in that position. The president of Honduras even invited me to the country but I couldn’t because of club commitments. Maybe one day I will take him up on his offer.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi: