Playing soccer in the ever changing lower division of U.S Soccer is very difficult, constantly moving your family and never having the stability like other professional athletes have across the world. Over the past couple of years Jonathan has been a veteran presence in the North American Soccer League, from playing with the San Antonio Scorpions, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Miami FC. Jonathan signed with Cosmos B ahead of the 2018 season in the National Premier Soccer League. As a local guy, it had to be great to be close to family and to have them come out to Cosmos matches.
There’s a long list of local players that have went on to have a successful career throughout the U.S or abroad, but Jonathan is finally home in the city that never sleeps. Hopefully he will return to the Cosmos in the “ NPSL Classic” season and for the inaugural Founders Cup.
Below is the Full Q&A with New York Cosmos Defender Jonathan Borrajo
FTP: There’s a long list of professional soccer players from New Jersey that have played domestically and abroad. New Jersey is really a melting pot for professional soccer players. How does it feel to be on the list alongside some of the legends of the game such as Tony Meola, John Harkes and Tab Ramos?
JB: It’s amazing to see so many success stories coming from kids that grew up playing youth soccer in New Jersey. I don’t consider myself to be a legend by any means but it’s nice to be in good company alongside guys you mentioned and players like: Dilly Duka, Danny Szetela, Giuseppe Rossi, Najem brothers, Matt Miazga and many more. Funny that a lot of those guys are from Clifton, NJ which is even crazier!
FTP: The soccer community can be really small. It’s crazy how things work out. You and Danny Szetela are from the same part of New Jersey, Clifton and played on the same pro team, the New York Cosmos. How does it feel to play alongside a close friend?
JB: The soccer world is much, much smaller than anyone thinks. Danny and I grew up playing for literally every club team together up until he left for the IMG Academy down in Florida. I love being able to play with a guy I know so well on the field but also a great friend off the field. Having a lifelong friendship with one another I have a "brother" in Danny and it’s always good to play with someone I can depend on and trust 100% off the field [and] on the field with me.
FTP: As a local player, how did it feel to return home and continue your professional career with the Boys In Green? If you don’t return to the Cosmos in 2019, what’s next for Jonathan Borrajo?
JB: I love the tri-state area. I've been all over the world and I always say that New York City is still the best city in the world for me! I love being back home. My soon to be wife and I (getting married January 19th, 2019) are much closer to our families and friends now which we feel extremely grateful and happy about that.
FTP: Can you ever see yourself getting into coaching?
JB: I have my USSF B License, I’d like to go for my A License as well. I’ve dabbled in coaching everywhere I’ve played to further ingrain myself in the communities I’ve played in, but mostly because I feel like it’s my way of giving back to the game, teaching the future stars of the soccer world. Most recently coached at Robert Louis Stevenson High School this Fall and I’m currently coaching the U12’s New York Cosmos DA Team with Carlos Mendes.
FTP: With the news that the Cosmos will participate in the NPSL Founders Cup next season and in a full professional league in 2020 in association with the NPSL, are you considering re-signing with the club?
JB: Yes, it’s definitely exciting to finally get some positive news after a very, VERY long 2018 offseason.
My phone has yet to ring from anything from the Cosmos. The Cosmos know I’d love to re-sign with the club. I’ve voiced it publicly that I had an AWESOME experience with the club and how attached I got to the fans in the short amount of time I've been with the club.
My doors are open to any offers and I’m willing to take a look at anything that comes across the table. I’m a veteran player and with getting married in January I will discuss things with my soon to be wife to see what makes sense for us as a family moving forward in 2019 and on.
FTP: The new professional league will be sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association rather than the United States Soccer Federation because of the unpredictability of the federation and the professional league standards. What do you think about the new professional league going a different route and trying to create a stable professional league for independent clubs?
JB: Don't build a better mousetrap.
If you're going to go a "different route and create a stable professional league", like the old saying goes, walk the walk. Don't create a new trap. Think about the players, think about the fans, think about the communities of people working behind the scenes for these clubs. Don't dangle a carrot in front of us all and paint sunshines and rainbows for it to just turn out to be a lot like the rest of what's been going on. We have a blank canvas, let's build a system we can all be proud of.
How can we better prepare for when the World Cup comes here in 8 years? That when people come from all around the world they can truly be amazed with how the football/soccer culture has grown here in the USA.
FTP: The Cosmos have a very important history that many soccer fans throughout the country remember. The club has a different meaning for fans and former players across the country and around the world. What does the club mean to you?
JB: It was incredible for me to walk through the locker room doors and see so much history and tradition up on the walls. Seeing so many championship trophies and pictures of the BIG STARS that used to play at this historic club, celebrating, battling, and being surrounded by 77,000+ people at Giants Stadium was incredible! It was amazing for me to be able to tell friends and family both domestically and abroad that I was playing for such an iconic club. EVERYONE knew who the Cosmos were; that football greats like Pele, Carlos Alberto, Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia had all worn the Cosmos shirt. As I said when I first arrived, it was an honor to wear the Cosmos badge.
FTP: From what I understand, the NASL paid their players a sustainable wage for themselves and their families. At the moment there are leagues sanctioned by U.S Soccer that are not paying players a living wage. According to a source in the USL: “I think it’s a shame that we don’t get compensated a livable wage. I believe our abilities as footballers are far better than what we are getting compensated for. We wake up and train just as hard as anyone else, but we just get paid 20k or less which is not a sustainable wage for any human. If the U.S Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro asked for your help to implement standards for player wages throughout the pyramid, what changes would you make? A players union? A player minimum wage?
JB: This is a whole separate case study. Haha. I could go on forever about this one...
I, for the life of me, cannot understand how little some of these clubs pay their players. What's the point? It's inhumane.
You cannot be a PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE and financially be below the poverty level.
By a professional, I mean: sleep well. Hydrate well. Rest well. Eat well. Recover well. [Be] mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychologically prepared every time you step on foot on the field.
Being compensated properly is what will allow you to do that. Short story, I once had a coach that said, we work all day: How I sleep, what I eat, how I train, how I recover from training, how I rest after training, my family life, my mental status, my peace, my serenity. All those things factor in on how you perform on the field.
NASL was a space for players to earn sustainable living wage, yes. Player wages throughout the pyramid is a bit more complex, but yes there should be minimums. A players union? YES. But there's no sense in having a union that has only fake power. Give them a real say.
FTP: Do you think a group of like-minded players and other stakeholders should come together and create a U.S Soccer Players Union that will fight for better wages and other issues on behalf of all the players?
JB: Yes. I'd love to be part of something like this and I know a lot of other like-minded colleagues of mine would too.
FTP: As we all know the pay in the sport is not the best, I hope that changes, which means players have to think about what they will do once they hang up their boots. You are the co-founder of SoccerShape. Can you talk a little about that? What are you hoping to achieve with SoccerShape?
JB: Well, my two business partners, Mason Trafford and Rhett Bernstein, and I came together and said, let's start trying to plan for life after soccer.
SoccerShape® is a soccer-inspired fitness experience. We now offer a few different styles - Bootcamp, Skills, Yoga, Juniors, Corporate and Charity events.
SoccerShape began in 2017. It started as a hobby, a way of connecting people in Miami through a shared soccer culture and to raise money for important charities. We felt that Miami was lacking something when it came to community. It’s a tough city in which to connect with people and make friends. One of the very best things about soccer, something we’ll all miss when the time comes to retire, is that feeling of being on a ‘team’. We wanted to bring this concept of a ‘team’ to the fitness world; the inclusiveness, the friendships - we wanted to create a community where people could enjoy soccer, each other, working out and a healthy life!
Building a community has always been at the forefront of our thoughts. Yes, we love our workout concept and we believe it is an incredible way to sweat. But we also want it to be something more. As pro players, and guys who just generally love soccer, we have seen and experienced firsthand the power this sport has on people’s lives. We don’t believe it’s a coincidence that soccer is also known as ‘the world’s game’ and ‘the beautiful game’. It brings people together in a really special way.
We believe there is a way to offer professional-style training to all who want to 'up' their game. Players who may not be where they'd like to be in terms of fitness, or for those trying to get better technically for their league games, could all find something in SoccerShape. We offer programs where they can work on both soccer and fitness, in a fun, supportive environment.
Our sessions are developed and taught by pro or ex-pro players and we strive to be 'more than just a training session'. SoccerShape fuses the Football Club culture with fitness and soccer. The result is a loyal community that meets to sweat, learn new skills and support one another on and off the field. And we have an awesome 'No Shower Happy Hour' after class on Sundays!
We are in Astoria at Upper 90 Soccer Center on Sunday's at 10:00 AM! Big shout out to all the Cosmos 5 Points members who come out and get a sweat on with us in Astoria every Sunday!
FTP: If there is one thing you could change about the U.S Soccer Pyramid. What would that be?
FTP: As you know Cosmos supporters are probably the most passionate fanbase in the country. What would be your message to them?
JB: Keep believing. Keep believing in your iconic club! You guys have remained loyal, stood by and supported this club through the highs and lows, and I know there are some very bright days to come for you guys in the future. The players appreciate your support and kindness very much, we thank you for that.
Thanks to Jonathan Borrajo for answering my questions. Professional soccer players that play in the lower divisions of U.S Soccer face many difficulties such as not earning a living wage and living with constant uncertainty. By not earning a living wage, they might have to work a second job, making it exceedingly difficult for a club or league to maintain a “professional” baseline. The player should be able to focus solely on the match at the weekend, training and getting their body right for playing the sport. They should not have to worry over how their own federation ensures lower-division clubs can't easily capitalize, and creates barriers against their pursuit of professional domestic careers.
Jonathan Borrajo decided to help start SoccerShape because he believes the fight is worth it. Jonathan seeks ways to combine his passion for the sport and that team spirit, all so he can keep bringing the beautiful game to another corner of our country. It's inspiring.
Cosmos supporters know that Jonathan has always given 110% when playing with Cosmos B, during what has arguably been the most critical bridging point in the modern-day history of the club. As it engages with the federation and fights for the soul of US football club culture both on the field and in the federal courthouse, all Cosmos supporters thank Jonathan for everything he's done. Hopefully we will see Jonathan on the field with the Cosmos in 2019.
James Izurieta contributed to this report.