Marcello Borges may be listed on the Michigan men’s soccer team’s roster as a defender, but that’s only because the position “utility” isn’t an option.
Borges has become a fixture in the Wolverines’ starting 11, but recently, the sophomore’s position in each match has been a guessing game.
Michigan coach Chaka Daley has started Borges in a different spot in each of the previous four games he has started, and that trend continued for a fifth game Wednesday night, when he finally returned to his typical position at left back in the Wolverines’ 2-0 loss to No. 3 Indiana.
“It’s always hard to keep switching positions and going back to playing your most natural position,” Borges said. “Even after a little bit of experience I still think I needed time to settle in, and I think that’s what happened for me today.”
Due to injuries and inexperience on the rest of the roster, Borges began the season playing multiple attacking roles — including as a striker, central attacking midfielder and both wings. But despite his remarkable dribbling and crossing ability, Borges still looked somewhat uncomfortable, especially when trying to find the final touch in front of goal. The sophomore entered Wednesday night’s game leading the team with 14 shots, but had failed to convert any into the goals Michigan has desperately needed.
Facing a tough test against the Hoosiers’ dynamic attack, Daley made the decision to push Borges back to defense. For a majority of the match, Indiana attacked the flank opposite to Borges, who was successfully challenging any winger or midfielder that dribbled his way.
“He’s a very dynamic player,” said senior defender Lars Eckenrode. “Both going forward and defending. He’s very strong, both-footed and, going forward, he helps us out a lot. Also, in the defensive end, he knows where to be tactically. He really knows the ins and outs of the position, and helps us out on both sides of the ball a lot.”
It’s no surprise the Hoosiers were finding more success attacking the right side of the Wolverines’ defense away from Borges on Wednesday night. The sophomore defender is widely regarded as one of the best left backs in all of college soccer. Borges has been a key contributor on the United States U-20 National Team, already making eight appearances for the squad this calendar year.
“Playing with the best players in the country, you learn something from them and they learn something from me,” Borges said. “Everything I learned there I can bring back to Michigan and teach the other guys.”
With Michigan’s attack returning to full health, Borges will likely have to resettle into his roll as a full back. But there were moments against the Hoosiers where the instinct he developed playing up front may have led to poor decisions at the back.
Particularly on Indiana’s second goal, Borges was caught too far forward when a perfectly placed cross flew past him, exposing the Wolverines’ back line to the counterattack.
Despite Borges’ error, he proved if there’s one area in Michigan’s attack that can consistently rely on the full back getting forward, it’s on set pieces. The Wolverines’ closest scoring chance came in the 35th minute, when Borges’ free kick connected with Eckenrode, whose header rung the crossbar.
There may be opportunities in the future for Michigan to take advantage of Borges’ attacking ability, but he proved against the Hoosiers he can be best utilized at defense. Now that he understands what the Wolverines need to spark their attack, Borges could be essential in starting those chances from where he’s meant to be, back on the left side.
“Playing in the back, you don’t understand what the guys in the front are going through,” Borges said. “Looking at them and seeing what they need help in from the back helped me gain a better understanding.”