Photo by USA Today Sports Images
By TIM FONTENAULT
Weaving his way through the New England Revolution defense, Portland Timbers central defender Liam Ridgewell looked more like a mesmerizing forward than a tall, lanky defender as he scored his first goal for his new club Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
He even celebrated like a player who gets paid to score, falling to the ground and rolling across the grass like a six-foot log right in front of the traveling Timbers Army.
In only five games for the Timbers, Ridgewell has established himself as one of the most valuable newcomers in MLS. Since making his debut on July 18, the Timbers have earned 10 of 15 possible points and reasserted themselves as a playoff contender.
Oh, and he somehow managed to find his way onto the MLS All-Star team as a replacement for Kyle Beckerman and helped preserve a 2-1 victory for the All-Stars over German giants Bayern Munich.
“It’s been great so far, it’s been fantastic,” Ridgewell said following the 1-1 draw. “A few more better results would have made it even better, but it’s been great so far. Everyone’s been fantastic with me, and to get a goal tonight obviously has topped off really well to contribute to the team as well.”
Ridgewell brings 12 years of experience – mostly in the English Premier League – to a Timbers back line that was in desperate need of help. Last year’s defense played a big role in helping the Timbers qualify for the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League, but that was far from the case to start the 2014 season. The centerback pairing of Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah, which last year was known as the Great Wall of Gambia, is no more. Danso was traded to Montreal in June and Kah has not seen the field since June 27.
Since he stepped on the field for the Timbers, Ridgewell has been a general. Always yelling, always pointing to where his teammates need to be, the 30-year-old Englishman has helped give the Timbers’ defense an identity again.
“We’ve lost one game since he’s been in the lineup, so three wins, a draw and a loss to L.A., so he’s made a huge impact,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said.
The Timbers will rely on Ridgewell’s defensive prowess to get them into the playoffs, but on Saturday, he proved he can unleash an offensive side of his game when needed.
Ridgewell said he has scored like that before for Aston Villa, but with a sly smile on his face, the charismatic defender admitted that originally, even with acres of space and Portland’s need for a goal, he was not trying to score.
“I wanted to pass, to be honest, but there was no one there,” Ridgewell said, “so I thought I’ll just shoot and see if I can get it on target.”
Porter brought Ridgewell in and gave him a Designated Player contract to keep the ball out of the net, but an occasional goal on the other end is more than okay with the second-year coach.
“You don’t see central defenders score very often through the run of play,” Porter said. “I think he showed, not only his defensive quality, but he showed that when he does get forward at times, he can finish.
“I don’t expect him to be doing that a lot, but it worked out that way, and he’s a big time player. I think he’s showing his worth.”
What do you think of Ridgewell’s debut MLS season thus far? Think he’s the main reason for Portland’s better play of late? Expect him to score a couple more goals this year?
Share your thoughts below.