Portland Timbers decimated by injuries in central defense, but back-ups stepping up and playing well

PORTLAND, Ore. – If there’s been one consistent source of frustration for the Portland Timbers this season, it’s been their center back position.

And it’s not because of the job they’ve done; it’s the fact that they’ve struggled to stay healthy.

Veteran David Horst missed the first three games of the season recovering from a preseason knock only to fall in his second game back to a season-ending leg injury.

And in Thursday night’s 0-0 draw against New England, Mikaäl Silvestre was stretchered off the field early in the second half with a knee injury. On Friday, the team announced Silvestre tore his ACL on his left knee, and will be out an estimated 6-9 months, likely putting him out for the season as well.

Second-year pro Andrew Jean-Baptiste, who has recently battled minor injuries of his own, replaced Silvestre. The Timbers did announce the signing of Pa Modou Kah, a veteran to several European leagues and most recently Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to help fill the void.

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Yet, through it all, the defense continues to respond and did once again Thursday night for their third home shutout that includes a 300-minute scoreless streak at JELD-WEN Field.

“It’s been the case, when guys go in, they do a good job,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said.

Of course, it helps when you have a goalkeeper playing at Donovan Ricketts’ level. Straight off his second straight and fourth overall MLS Save of the Week award, Ricketts offered a few more for consideration in Thursday’s scoreless draw.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t commend Donovan Ricketts,” Porter said. “He made some world class saves. He has been absolutely tremendous.”

The big Jamaican international made four saves on the night. His 84th-minute diving, fingertip save off a wide-open shot attempt from Saer Sene will more than likely be considered for Save of the Week once again. More importantly, it saved the point for Portland.

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“There have been games when the attack digs us out of a hole, that’s been the case in a few games when we’ve given up a few goals and our attacking side has bailed us out scoring goals,” Porter said. “And tonight I thought our defending kept us level, and Donovan Ricketts probably saved us in the end.”

The always-humble Ricketts called his save “lucky” and said he’d rather play in a game where he isn’t called upon to make such nerve-racking saves. But he said when the goals aren’t falling, it’s merely the job of the defense to step up.

“Sometimes you have to make one save to keep your team in the game,” he said. “Obviously we were unlucky offensively tonight, so we had to be sound defensively. And somebody came up big, and it was me.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.