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PHILADELPHIA – Jonathan Bornstein had a lot on his mind as he stepped onto the plane to South Africa with the rest of the United States World Cup squad.
Wayne Rooney. Playing at altitude. Lionel Messi. Crown molding. The new World Cup ball.
Hang on a minute. Crown molding?
For many of the players at this summer's World Cup, downtime involves little more than playing video games, watching television and, for the elite, totaling up their ever-increasing wealth. Bornstein is as hard-working as any national team member, and he is regularly the last man to leave the training field with both Chivas USA and the U.S. squad. Yet away from the game he has not been prepared to restrict himself to mind-numbing pursuits, having embarked upon an ambitious, long-term renovation of his home in Los Alamitos, Calif.
Bornstein purchased a dilapidated one-level house 10 minutes from the beach in early 2008, using his bonus check from the previous year's CONCACAF Gold Cup as down payment. Since then, he has invested sweat, toil and hundreds of man-hours in turning the property from a relic to a classic.
"It is an original from 1942," Bornstein said with a smile. "The plumbing was rotten and the ceiling was like popcorn, but I fell in love with it. There were parts of it that were falling apart and needed to be attacked with a sledgehammer, like the bathroom. I just got in there and started smashing away.
"It is a weird kind of thing for a soccer player, but it helps. It gives me a release when I am at home and it gives me something to think about when I need to take my mind off soccer."
Bornstein has been through his share of tribulations with his renovation project – much like his career with the U.S. national team, with which he has experienced plenty of highs and lows. Like when he pulled back the living room carpet to find a gaping hole in the hardwood floor. Or when U.S. fans turned on him at different times over the past year, using online message boards to exhort coach Bob Bradley to ditch him from the squad.
Yet when Bradley's final cut pared the USA roster to 23 players last week, Bornstein was included on the cherished list to book his place in the tournament and realize a dream.
Little suggested that Bornstein had a bright professional future ahead during a college career at Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA. In fact, it took until the fourth round of the 2006 MLS draft for him to be selected by Bob Bradley, who was then in charge of Chivas USA and still a year removed from the national team job.
Bradley turned Bornstein into a left back after a career spent in attack and gave him the belief to flourish. Bornstein won the MLS Rookie of the Year award, then broke into the national team setup.
The 25-year-old Bornstein attracts more criticism than any other USA player, but he has enjoyed some notable highlights, like scoring the tying goal in the final game of World Cup qualifying at home against Costa Rica. The equalizer knocked the Costa Ricans out and allowed Honduras to claim CONCACAF's last bid to South Africa.
Friends of Bornstein say there has been no change in his personality over the years, and they expect none however he fares at the World Cup. With such traits, you can see why Bradley likes having him around.
"This has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember," Bornstein said. "Just the idea of playing in the World Cup is enough to give me the chills.
"I can play better. I can contribute more. It has been special to be a part of qualifying but I know there is more I can offer this team."
"He fits in well with the group," Bradley said. "When you have a squad of players, it is good to have different characters. That is always going to happen. Some are going to be the jokers, some are going to be a bit more hyperactive, and some are just kind of going to get along with everybody."
It was left unspoken but it was clear Bradley sees Bornstein as the latter and has a soft spot for a player who he has seen reach unexpected heights.
But there is no complacency. "There is a lot more hard work to be done," Bornstein admitted.
Does his mean work on his game or on his house?
"I meant on my game, but the house, too," he said, laughing. "But the house needs to wait for a while. I'm going to be busy this summer."
- Jonathan Bornstein
- Bob Bradley