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Men’s Soccer: Borkovic adapting to US, role with the Buckeyes

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Ohio State freshman midfielder Marko Borkovic (17) stretches during No. 23 Ohio States 2-1 win over No. 15 Indiana on Sept. 18. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

Traveling overseas and excelling on the pitch almost immediately is not what freshman midfielder Marko Borkovic anticipated.

The Maiden, England, native previously played for the under-18 team at Derby County Football Club in England, recording five goals in 22 matches before being promoted to the under-23 team as a reserve.

Borkovic said he was roughly 5 years old when he first started playing soccer and credited his father, Pero, who played in Croatia, for teaching him and his brother, Branko, about the game. He said he began garnering interest from clubs before signing with Derby County at 15-years-old.

“That was my first time ever, like, signing for a professional club,” Borkovic said. “And yeah, I was there for two, three years, did pretty well — actually managed to make my professional debut in the Carabao Cup.”

Borkovic said he wanted a new challenge in academics and athletics and was surprised by the quality of American soccer when he first arrived.

“I thought maybe the level would be just a little bit worse,” Borkovic said. “But, coming here, it’s definitely on the same level as, you know, under-23 football— academy football in England, for sure. So, that took me by surprise a little bit, and yeah, the quality everyday in training and the games is very high.”

Borkovic said he was new to the American playstyle, yet he is thriving as a Buckeye. Borkovic said even after a win against California Polytechnic State University Aug. 28, it was tough to adjust to college life in the U.S. while so far from home.

“Coming over from England, it’s been a big move,” Borkovic said. “Being away from family as well. I have to give credit to the players and coaches. They’ve made the transition really smooth.”

Borkovic said he primarily credits junior midfielder Laurence Wootton, a Stoke-on-Trent, England, native, for helping him adjust to life in America.

“The other guys are brilliant,” Borkovic said. “Especially Laurence as a captain. He’s made me feel so welcomed. He’s gone through the same process as me. He’s guided me, and everyone has been there for me.”

Wootton said former Ohio State midfielder Matteo Bennati, a native of Genova, Italy, helped him get accustomed to college life as a fellow European. Wootton said he wants to do the same for Borkovic, especially since they have an English connection.

“I’m from the same place as [Borkovic], so I understand you’re not going to see your folks every weekend, and just the ins and outs of getting a Visa, which is a nightmare,” Wootton said.

Borkovic also said he has gotten along well with freshman defender Donny Williams, his roommate, who has helped him adapt to life at Ohio State and in the U.S. He said the Buckeyes are welcoming and everyone gets along well.

“We spend a lot of time together off the pitch,” Borkovic said. “I think that’s important as well. You know, building relationships off the pitch will help us on the pitch as well. You know, with the chemistry and the connection with everyone.”

Freshman midfielder Ashton Bilow said he got to know Borkovic while playing Xbox with him before his arrival in the U.S., and he still spends time with Borkovic off the pitch. Bilow said he thinks Borkovic fit in right away with the team.

“On the field, I mean, he has two goals in four games,” Bilow said. “He’s doing great, and so I feel like a big part of it is that he was comfortable with all of us before he even came.”

Borkovic said after a win against then-No. 12 Butler Sept. 9, he gained confidence after scoring his first goal against Cal Poly. He said the shouts from the crowd and the “family feel” are “brilliant.”

“I take every game just game by game,” Borkovic said. “I don’t think about the future. I just try and make an impact on the game ahead and have managed to do that so far. I’m going to carry on trying to do that.”

Borkovic is becoming a key starter as a freshman. He leads the Buckeyes with three goals and seven total points, both of which rank top 10 in the Big Ten. Borkovic also ranks among the top in the conference with two game-winning goals, 19 shots and eight shots on goal.

Although head coach Brian Maisonneuve said he never got to meet Borkovic in person before bringing him to the team, assistant coach Travis Morris spent a lot of time with Borkovic in England.

Maisonneuve said Borkovic has developed confidence and has a different touch on the ball than most of his teammates. Maisonneuve said Borkovic’s willingness to do “the dirty work or whatever it takes” to help the team win resonated with him.

“The ball comes off his foot different than a lot of guys,” Maisonneuve said. “And then his ability to beat guys off the dribble are very good. And I think his angles defensively are good as well.”

Borkovic said he enjoys watching professional soccer and is a Liverpool Football Club fan. He also said he enjoys watching tennis and is a fan of Novak Djokovic, and he correctly predicted 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz winning the U.S. Open.

Borkovic said he would like to play either in Major League Soccer or England when he graduates but said he is not focused on that just yet.

“I just want to be here, enjoy my soccer, carry on with my education,” Borkovic said. “When it gets to the point, if I become a senior, finish the season and, you know, I have an opportunity to get into the MLS draft, then I’m not going to say no, of course. And if that does happen, hopefully I do well and then who knows what could happen after.”

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