Chico Borja helped the Cosmos capture the 1982 NASL title.
By Michael Lewis
Former Cosmos midfielder-forward Hernan “Chico” Borja, a member of the team’s 1982 NASL championship side who found great success in indoor soccer and also played for the U.S. men’s national team, has passed away.
He was 61.
Borja battled cancer for several years.
FrontRowSoccer.com was informed of Borja’s passing by his friend, former Long Island University standout Walter Bustamante.
Born in Quito, Ecuador Aug. 24, 1959, Borja and his family emigrated to the United States when he was 13.
His father Carlos worked in a bank, but “he wasn’t a banker,” Borja told the Wichita Eagle-Beacon in 1986. “He just worked there.
When the family arrived in the U.S., old brother Carlos Jr., who journeyed to this country beforehand, asked his younger brother at the airport: “Would you like to go to eat chicken,” Chico told the newspaper. “I said, ‘Whose birthday is it?’ We went to Kentucky Fried Chicken. They have no place like that in Ecuador.”
We're saddened to learn about the passing of Hernan "Chico" Borja.
Descansa en paz, viejo amigo. Se te extrañará. 🇪🇨❤️ pic.twitter.com/Eq4yYSjKqv
— New York Cosmos (@NYCosmos) January 29, 2021
Borja’s parents settled in Bloomfield, N.J. and they earned degrees from Essex County College and were employed as social workers.
He started to turn heads at Belleville High School in Belleville, N.J. in the late 1970s before deciding to attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology when it was a Division III school.
Borja, an architectural engineering major, earned NCAA Division III All America first team honors at NJIT, the first Highlander to earn that accolade in that sport. After graduating in 1981, he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1989.
NJIT men’s head coach convinced college coaches on the selection committee that Borja deserved to play in the annual Senior Bowl game in Tampa, Fla., where many North American Soccer League draftees were scouted by pro coaches.
“I was the only Division III player named to the squad,” Borja was quoted by the Bergen Record in 1981. “But I was listed only as an alternate. I only actually made the team when Alabama made the Final Four to open a place for me.”
Such sad news….For those of us growing up with the NASL and the NY Cosmos he was one to look up to…. One of the first latino players to pave the way to the @usmnt … Great player, great person…. A legend gone…. RIP https://t.co/OIJRPjsSKP
— Tab Ramos (@RamosTab) January 28, 2021
Borja did not waste the opportunity, as he was outstanding on attack while accruing a goal and assist.
“He was the best player on the field,” then Cosmos head coach Hennes Weisweiler was quoted by the Record.
“That man believed in me,” Borja said of Weisweiler in The Belleville Times. “He didn’t care about schools. He saw talent and gave me a chance of a lifetime.”
The Cosmos drafted Borja, who still couldn’t believe he was a member of the team, even during preseason camp in the Bahamas.
“I still remember the first day when I put on the Cosmos yellow practice uniform,” he told Record sportswriter Bob Kurland. “I kept pulling at the team emblem and looking at it to make sure I was with the club.”
He stayed, scoring 12 goals in 48 appearances in two years with the club, helping New York reach Soccer Bowl 81 and win Soccer Bowl 82.
We're saddened to hear of the passing of Hernan "Chico" Borja.
The midfielder earned 11 caps and scored three goals for the #USMNT from 1982-1988. He also helped the 🇺🇸 finish second at the 1992 FIFA Futsal World Championship.
We send our thoughts to his family. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/nYjJCNnSxq
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) January 29, 2021
“What we had will never be matched,” Borja was quoted by The Belleville Times in 1989. “That was a tremendous experience. Those times were just incredible. Playing before 60,000 fans and more, and outdrawing both the Yankees and Mets combined was quite a story.”
His first goal as a Cosmos came against the Toronto Blizzard on Mother’s Day in 1981.
“I remember everything about that goal,” Borja said. “I remember Giorgio [Chinaglia] picking me up. I rememeber where I took the shot. I thought I had seen everything.”
His brothers ran onto the field to congratulate him and his fainted in the stands.
“I didn’t know about either event until we were in the locker room after the game,” Borja said.
It is with great sadness that we learn about the passing of soccer legend and United Soccer Coaches Academy Staff member Chico Borja. RIP Chico. https://t.co/EZKxvol2cJ
— United Soccer Coaches (@UnitedCoaches) January 29, 2021
Borja realized how fortunate he was playing with the Cosmos.
“People don’t realize the amount of work it took to start for that team,” he told The Belleville Times. “Here I am, just 20 minutes away from the stadium and playing with guys who are known worldwide as the best. It wasn’t easy.”
When Team America was established for the 1983 North American Soccer League season to prepare the best U.S. players for World Cup qualifying, Borja jumped at the chance. He tallied three goals in 17 games.
He returned to the Cosmos for the 1984 campaign, connecting five times in 18 appearances, before the NASL closed up shop prior to the 1985 season.
Borja wound up playing indoor soccer for the rest of his pro career, for the Las Vegas Americans, Wichita Wings, Los Angeles Lazers in the original Major Indoor Soccer League before retiring after the 1991-92 season.
He became one of the league’s most consistent attacking players. His best seasons were for Wichita in 198-87 (51 goals, 36 assists) and Los Angeles in 1987-88 (47 goals, 51 assists), finishing his indoor career fourth all-time in assists (338) and eighth in total points (612),
— Wichita Wings (@WichitaWings) January 28, 2021
The midfielder-forward returned to the great outdoors with the Albany Capitals from 1989-90 in the American Soccer League and the American Professional Soccer League.
In 1990, three Borja brothers – Santiago, Ramiro and Chico – started in the same game for the first time as the Albany Capitals recorded a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Eagles and goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier in an American Professional Soccer League game in Jersey City, N.J.
“It was great starting the three of us in New Jersey in front of our family and friends,” Chico told The Record. “We look for each other and since we grew up playing together, we’re used to each other.
“But just like anyone else, we get upset with each other or get excited, but it’s easier this way.”
Borja made 11 appearances for the U.S. national team from 1982-88, scoring three goals. His final appearance was in a scoreless World Cup qualifying draw in Jamaica, replacing Bruce Murray in the 61st minute. He found the net in a 2-0 win over Haiti April 8, 1983, in a 2-1 WCQ victory over Trinidad and Tobago May 15, 1985 and in a 3-1 loss vs. Chile June 3, 1988.
The former Cosmos wore the Red, White and Blue of the USA at the 1984 Olympics as the squad finished at 1-1-1. He suited up for the USA at the FIFA Futsal Championship in 1992, helping the team to a silver medal while earning first team all-star honors.
One of Borja’s biggest regrets was not playing in a World Cup. He appeared in that one qualifier for Italia 90, but that was it. At the time, he was making his living playing indoor soccer.
“The biggest recognition I would love to get is, ‘Chico Borja,’ member of the national team,’ going into the World Cup,”” he was quoted by the Wichita Eagle in 1990. “All the players will be appreciative – Dale Ervine, Mike Fox, Bruce Savage. Not only as players but as professional people.”
He also coached the Houston Hotshots of the Continental Indoor Soccer League in 1994 and the Houston Force for one game before the club folded.
Borja also was on the National Soccer Coaches Association of American national staff and coached the Renegade Elite in Florida. Recently, he was an assistant principal at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Fla.
On Tuesday, Borja was among the 25 semifinalists on the veterans ballot of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. The 10 finalists will be named Tuesday, Feb. 2.
Borja was elected to the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame last year, but the results of the election were not going to be announced until this year.
Last year we voted on the next class of the ISHOF and our plans were put on hold due to the pandemic. I knew Chico was sick, but I thought we had more time. Now I wish I had told him that he was going to be among those who will be inducted in the next class. RIP Chico Borja
— Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame (@turfandboards) January 28, 2021
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