Jonathan Bornstein's Mexican adventure has been a hoot, he says, and not just on the soccer field, where he's helped UANL Tigres to the top of the Primera Division.
The defender/midfielder from Los Alamitos (Los Alamitos HS/UCLA) has been absorbing the culture of his mother's homeland while learning a new style of soccer with Tigres, based in suburban Monterrey.
He's made four starts in the club's first six games in the Primera Division's spring Clausura championship, contributing an assist and nearly scoring goal as Tigres (4-1-1) have won all four.
“I would probably say the soccer aspect has taken over the majority of my life,” Bornstein, preparing for Saturday's Clasico Regiomontano showdown with Monterrey, said in a Q&A with U.S. Soccer earlier this week. “Getting my first start was pretty uplifting for me, just being able to feel like I’m part of the team and contributing.”
Bornstein, 26, whose mother is Mexican, signed a pre-contract last summer with Tigres and joined the club following five seasons with Chivas USA. He had grown with the Goats from an MLS-draft afterthought (2006, fourth round) to World Cup defender, departing as captain and having played the most games in team history.
Now he's experiencing a different brand of soccer -- and in a new position. Coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has used him as one of two “contencions,” defensive midfielders, in a 4-2-2-2 scheme.
“I would say the style of soccer down here is a lot different than it is in the United States. Here it is a lot more technical,” Bornstein said. “The players have the ability to pass and move on and off the ball very well. In the United States, it’s a little more defensive-minded and very strong, and you run very hard.
“I’m definitely enjoying the type of soccer we play. I’m trying to fit in as best as I can and as quickly as I can, so I’m trying to learn on the job. Also, for the lifestyle, I’m learning what Mexico is all about. There are definitely some differences in my life; for example, I have a maid who cooks and cleans for me. That’s pretty standard custom here, which is something I’m not used to.”
Bornstein reports he's become tight with forward Carlos Ochoa, another newcomer to Tigres; that Ferretti prefers far more full-field scrimmage situations in training than he'd ever done in MLS (and he says he likes it); that the club's supporters are “extremely passionate” and “the best fans in all of Mexico”; and that he's increasingly recognized in and around Monterrey, especially when he's with Ochoa.
And he's enjoying the food.
Growing up in L.A., we obviously had a lot of Mexican food, but I think it’s a little bit different the way it’s prepared here and the way the service is here,” he said. “Every day I come home from training, and I have a very good two- or three-course meal. You always have a soup and then a salad, then a main course and always a ‘postre,’ a dessert. So that’s a lot different. At home, I’m used to just having a whole meal at one time and not such a fancy presentation.”
It's been a fairly seamless transition for Bornstein.
“I got a nice house here and I’m neighbors with Carlos, so I’ve been able to get adapted by hanging out with him and his family,” he said. “He’s got two pretty amazing daughters, so I hang out with their family a lot. My girlfriend is actually coming to live here with me, so that will be a good change for me.
“It’s been pretty easy to adapt. Everyone here is pretty helpful in terms of the club and helping me with finding a car or finding a place to live. Everything has been very easy.”