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Canadian keeper Milan Borjan believes he’s getting better with age

Canadian keeper Milan Borjan believes he’s getting better with age
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Ask Milan Borjan about the result of a Canadian men’s national team match eight years ago and he can probably rhyme off the specifics of the game.

Like, say, the first time he was named to Canada’s squad for a match against the United States. It was June 2011, four months after his international debut.

“Gold Cup, yeah,” the goalkeeper recalled this week. “We lost 2-0, I think ... That was my first Gold Cup, first game.”

It all checks out, though he didn’t play in the game.

The 31-year-old netminder may be the most experienced international player currently in camp with Canada, with his 47 appearances leading the young pack, but facing the United States remains an unchecked box on his soccer bucket list.

“Never played U.S. … I think that’s the only CONCACAF team I haven’t played,” he marvelled.

Borjan was on the bench for two of the four matches Canada has played against its border rival since his debut, that 2-0 loss in the Gold Cup opener in Detroit in 2011 and Canada Soccer’s centennial celebration match at BMO Field in 2012. He wasn’t with the team when the Canadians faced the Americans in friendlies in Houston in 2013 and Carson, Calif., in 2016. Canada went 0-2-2 in the four matches.

Borjan should be able to cross the U.S. off his list Tuesday at BMO Field, when the Canadians take on the Americans in the first of two CONCACAF Nations Leagues matches the countries will play in the span of a month.

Borjan has found himself behind keepers Maxime Crepeau, Simon Thomas and Lars Hirschfeld for one reason or another in past matches against the U.S. but he is Canada’s current No. 1, having played 90 minutes in all but one of the team’s 11 contests under manager John Herdman. Borjan has minded in more than 50 per cent of Canada’s 83 matches since his international debut at 23 years old.

The Borjan who first broke onto the Canadian scene is not the goalkeeper he is now. The adage that “with age comes wisdom” resounds with Borjan, who believes he is just getting started.

“The goalkeeper position is very tough,” he said. “You become a goalkeeper with confidence and everything when you are 30 years old. You need a lot of experience to get there … I went through a lot through those years but all the (pieces) started falling in the right places when I turned 30.”

That has meant paying more attention to his body than he did in his 20s.

“When you’re young, you don’t think about your body,” he said. “You think about your life, you think about different stuff. You’re not concentrated enough … when you turn into your 30s, just the body and the mentality calms you down and brings more concentration. That’s when the person becomes more experienced and calm on the field.”

Borjan’s is particularly important on a young team. The average age of the Canadian team is 24.7 and it boasts just four players over the age of 30: Borjan, 31, midfielder Scott Arfield, 30, keeper Jason Leutwiler, 30, and centre back Steven Vitoria, 32.

Borjan tries to use his experience in club soccer — the Serbian-Canadian dual citizen has been with Red Star Belgrade since 2017 — to teach his younger teammates how to deal with hostile away environments. He believes his experience in Europe, where supporters live and die with their clubs, helps him prepare for the pressure of visiting antagonistic environments like Honduras, Mexico or even the U.S.

“I talk to a lot of guys because there’s a lot of young guys without the experience,” Borjan said. “I talk to them and I give them some advice. It’s up to them if they’re going to accept it or not.”

The crowd should be a friendly one at BMO Field on Tuesday, but Borjan knows the opponent won’t be. The Americans are 21st in the FIFA rankings; Canada is 75th. But Borjan is confident this is just another stepping stone for his up-and-coming team.

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Where does he think that this team can go? “To the World Cup,” Borjan said.

In Qatar in 2022? “Yeah,” he replied. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe it.”
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