"Before the year started, I had small goals, such as getting some playing time on the team, maybe eventually getting a starting position," said Bornstein, who started 30 games, leads the league in minutes played by a nongoalkeeper (2,698 -- he only missed two minutes of the season) and leads MLS rookies in goals scored (six). With his undeniable success, he's now setting his sights higher.
"To win an MLS cup would be another huge goal of mine," said Bornstein, who was named MLS player of the month for July. "And to eventually make it to the national team level and represent our country."
Bornstein, 21, is taking the attention and accolades in stride, determined to take it practice by practice and game by game. A self-proclaimed average guy, he comes home from practice, fixes lunch and settles in with a video game or his new guitar.
"I just went out and bought my guitar once I got my first paycheck. I'm really interested in music," said Bornstein, who spends the rest of his free time on the golf course, at the beach or with his girlfriend.
Bornstein spent the first half of his college career at Cal Poly Pomona, where he was named California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Freshman of the Year, First Team All-CCAA and Second Team All-Far West Region. He then transferred to UCLA. During his senior year (2005-06) as a Bruin, he started all 20 games, scored five goals, made four assists, received All-Pac 10 honors and was named Met/RX Player of the Week.
Though Bornstein spent his entire amateur career playing forward, ChivasUSA head coach Bob Bradley moved him to fullback at the start of this season. He now clocks most of his time in the backfield, and, on occasion, plays forward or midfield. Bornstein shines in his new versatile role, having scored goals for ChivasUSA from all three positions.
With his transition to defense, new coaches, fresh mentors and the thrill of playing in the MLS, Bornstein has come into his own this year.
"I've been learning a lot from my teammates. These guys have so much experience beyond my years, so I just watch how they play and try to mimic them," said Bornstein, who has four assists this season. "Also, I feel very comfortable here, and I think that has something to do with why I've been able to do so well here."
It's not surprising Bornstein feels at home on the Carson- based team. He is at home. He's been playing soccer in the L.A. area since age 3.
"I really like it in Los Angeles. I was born here, I grew up here. I've been other places, and they don't compare," said Bornstein, who continues to live in Los Alamitos. "Playing in front of my family, my friends, my college buddies -- it means the world to me."
Bornstein also got the opportunity to play in front of an Israeli crowd when he led the United States to a silver medal in the 2005 Maccabiah Games.
"It was amazing. It was great. I loved it. It made me realize how fulfilling and enriched Jewish culture really is," Bornstein said. "So in the past couple years, I've felt more Jewish than ever."
His father is Jewish and his mother is a non-Jew from Mexico.
Bornstein grew up celebrating Passover and Rosh Hashanah with relatives. He did not have a bar mitzvah, and he doesn't consider himself observant. The Maccabiah experience was a way for him to connect with Judaism.
"Outside of my UCLA teammate Benny Feilhaber, I never really thought there were other high-class Jewish soccer players out there," he said. "With the Maccabiah Games, I definitely got the chance to experience a good thing. I realized there are a lot of really cool and really good Jewish athletes."
Bornstein is hoping that his presence on ChivasUSA will help Los Angeles Jews feel a connection to the team and the sport of soccer.
"I'm hoping they'll give it a chance -- come out to one of the games, experience the atmosphere that comes with sitting in the Home Depot Center," he said. "I think they would be surprised how much fun it is, how entertaining it is, how much of a real sport it is."
ChivasUSA is headed to the MLS playoffs for the first time. The team plays Real Salt Lake at 4 p.m. on Oct. 15 at The Home Depot Center.
Chivas USA's Jonathan Bornstein. Photo by Juan Miranda/Chivas USA
Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org