Portland Timbers new DP Liam Ridgewell eager to take on challenge of transforming struggling defense

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Reinforcements for the Portland Timbers’ beleaguered backline have arrived.

Liam Ridgewell, signed to a Designated Player contract two weeks ago, arrived in the Rose City on Thursday and was ushered straight to the pitch for his first training session Friday morning at the team facility.

A veteran of 11 Premier League seasons, Ridgewell’s arrival to a club that is tied for second worst in MLS for goals allowed with 30 in 18 games was most welcomed.

“He’s a good player,” head coach Caleb Porter told the media after running him through the paces for the first time. “There was never going to be any doubt there.”

The Timbers are hoping he’s good enough to solidify the center back position that has seen a handful of players rotated in and out – including Mamadou “Futty” Danso, who was traded to the Montreal Impact, Norberto Paparatto, Rauwshan McKenzie and Danny O’Rourke – alongside mainstay Pa Modou Kah.

“Hopefully I can bring a bit of experience and hopefully I can help that backline,” Ridgewell told the media. “I’m not coming in here to take people’s position and things like that. I’m coming in to help people and slot myself in and make sure we keep a clean sheet in a lot of the games and make sure we win some games.”

From being tasked with turning around a struggling side to becoming just the third defensive DP in league history, and one of two currently, the pressure is firmly on Ridgewell’s back. But after toiling for lower-end EPL sides, such as Aston Villa, the Championship’s Birmingham City and most recently for the past three seasons with West Bromwich Albion, Ridgewell said he’s ready for the challenge.

“It’s just a new experience and a new challenge for me in my football career and one that I’m ready to relish and start on my career in Portland,” he said. “… It was a big decision, obviously, coming from London but one I’m going to pride myself rightly to trying to help the team.”

Ridgewell was courted away from England, despite reportedly receiving several offers to stay, on a visit to Portland in early June. He was on hand at Providence Park for the Timbers game June 11 against FC Dallas and witnessed a frantic comeback from down 2-0 at halftime to draw 2-2.

“It was fantastic,” Ridgewell said of the visit. “I was lucky enough to catch a game, as well, and to listen to the fans and to see them it was a big thing to watch them singing. It was like a typical Premier League match. It was great to see them singing along and even though we were two down at the time, they were still singing, still chanting, so I think that’s a big thing for the city and the club.”

As for joining a new league, he said all he’s known of MLS is from what he’s seen on TV.

“There’s a lot more English Premier League players coming into it right now, and you get to learn a lot more,” he said. “I think it’s gotten a lot bigger over the last few years, and people have gotten to know it a lot more. Hopefully I can only enhance that.”

Friday was first Ridgewell’s first “proper training session,” he said, since his season ended in April. Porter said they’ll assess him over the next week and that he likely won’t be available for Sunday’s showdown with Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders (10 pm ET; ESPN2).

Porter did say he was further along with his fitness than he expected.

“It felt really good, and I think we’re just going to try to assess it and see how I get on to be honest,” Ridgewell said. “I think it’s just going to be telling the gaffer how I feel and the gaffer just seeing how I feel, and just take it from there. … We’ll probably just take it day by day.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.