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Bornstein Heads to Top of Class

After being drafted in fourth round, defender from UCLA has been one of Chivas USA's top players and arguably the best rookie in MLS this season.

September 30, 2006|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Bob Bradley was wearing his poker face, trying to hide the nervousness and the excitement.

The coach of Chivas USA had only two picks at the 2006 Major League Soccer draft in Philadelphia in January, and the second was not until the fourth round. Would the player he so badly wanted still be available?

"Honestly, we had to sweat out two rounds," Bradley said.

Thirty-six players slowly came and went until, finally, with the first pick in the fourth round, Bradley got his man.

Eight months later, Jonathon Bornstein turns out to have been the diamond of the draft.

The 21-year-old from Los Alamitos High and UCLA is virtually a lock to be named MLS rookie of the year, which would be one for the books, considering that Marvel Wynne, Bornstein's former Bruins teammate and son of the baseball player of the same name, was the top pick in the draft.

Wynne has done well with the struggling New York Red Bulls, but Bornstein has eclipsed him in every meaningful statistical category.

Bornstein leads all rookies with six goals going into tonight's match against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.

He also has four assists, second among rookies only to teammate Sacha Kljestan, Chivas USA's 2006 first-round pick.

Even more impressive than the goals and assists, Bornstein has played all but two minutes this season for a total of 2,608. Only goalkeepers Matt Reis of the New England Revolution and Pat Onstad of the Houston Dynamo have played every minute of every game.

"Am I surprised?" Bornstein asked, repeating a question. "A little bit. I really didn't know what to expect coming in. I hoped to get some playing time, get on the field, kind of get my feet wet.

"Bob gave me the chance to start my first game at left fullback and from then on it was just a matter of keeping my spot on the team and ... doing what I've always done to stay on the field."

Chivas USA's veteran players have been impressed by Bornstein.

"From the beginning, I saw that Jonny was a good player with good qualities," said 37-year-old defender Claudio Suarez, a veteran of two World Cups with Mexico. "As the season has gone along, he looks better and better. He is a player who scores goals even when he plays in defensive positions."

Suarez is not the only former Mexican international to have taken note. Jorge Campos, the one-time Galaxy goalkeeper who was an assistant coach on Mexico's team at the World Cup in Germany this summer and still lives in Los Angeles, has watched Bornstein closely.

"Jorge said he could play in the Mexican league or any other league that he wants to," Suarez said. "Even in his first year, he has shown that he can compete at this level. Sometimes young players play well for a while and then go down. He has been really consistent. His character is important as well. He's not scared. He can hold onto the ball. He plays with ease. It takes a good player to know how to do the right thing at the right time."

Some of that is because veteran Chivas midfielder Jesse Marsch has been Bornstein's mentor.

"I just kind of try to follow his lead and do what he does," Bornstein said. "A lot of the guys joke about how he calls me his son sometimes. We always talk and we hang out. We're just close. It's really helped me transition into becoming a better pro."

Marsch, 32, has been in the league since its inception and won an MLS championship and a U.S. Open Cup in 1998 playing under Bradley with the Chicago Fire. He says he is certain that Bornstein has what it takes to play, not only in MLS but internationally.

"You could tell early on that he was talented and had a lot of the tools," Marsch said. "He's fast and athletic and his feet are pretty good. But you didn't really know how it would add up and if he would be able to help us this year.

"As time went on, I really started to like his whole approach and how he treats every day and comes out and competes and works hard and, you know, keeps his mouth shut and listens."

What Bradley spotted in Bornstein was something he had seen before.

"You can see it," Bradley said. "The easiness in the way he moves around the field. He's got very good reactions, in terms of being a two-way player. He's aware of things.

"In a way, in terms of his movement around the field, there are similarities to DaMarcus."

That would be DaMarcus Beasley, the two-time World Cup player for the U.S. who played for Bradley in Chicago and now plays for Manchester City in England's Premier League.

Marsch, skeptical of such comparisons, says he believes this one is on the money.

"The more I get to know Jonny, the more I think that comparison holds true," he said. "DaMarcus was the type of guy who was good both ways. He was our best attacker and he was our best defender, all at the same time. Jonny is in a lot of ways too.

"DaMarcus was a competitor and hated to lose. He just had this edge when he was out on the field. I think Jonny has that too."

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