BEAVERTON, Ore. – Conventional wisdom would say that Donovan Ricketts’ clean sheet in Jamaica’s scoreless draw against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier has fueled what has been a stellar start to his 2013 MLS campaign.
In that game on Feb. 6 at Estadio Azteca, Ricketts was spectacular, turning away a number of shots while leading the Reggae Boyz to their first-ever point at the Mexican stronghold.
But Ricketts, who was acquired by the Portland Timbers shortly after former head coach John Spencer was fired last summer, said it’s the complete opposite. It was the feeling of confidence the 35-year-old got from the first few weeks of Timbers preseason camp under new head coach Caleb Porter that sparked his confidence to turn in the performance of a lifetime in Mexico City.
“My club gave me the confidence to go play the way that I did,” Ricketts told MLSsoccer.com after the team’s final training session in the Rose City before departing for Saturday’s game against Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). “So I think it was the other way around.”
Indeed, Ricketts is yet another example of a player enjoying a rebirth of sorts during the Timbers’ feel-good start to the season under Porter. His quick-reaction save on a Chris Wondolowski blast, one of four saves that helped Portland earn a 1-1 draw at San Jose on Sunday, has been nominated for MLS Save of the Week to go along with his two Save of the Week awards already won this year.
His 312-minute shutout streak that started March 30 and ended Sunday is the second-longest scoreless streak in MLS this year. In that stretch, he recorded back-to-back clean sheets April 6 in a 2-0 win against Houston and in a 1-0 home victory against San Jose on April 14.
And while Ricketts’ 17 saves is just 10th-best in the league, Porter said he’s just what he wants in a goalkeeper.
“Honestly, for me, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Porter said. “And that’s no disrespect to any other goalkeepers, there’s a lot of good goalkeepers in the league, but I think he’s a tremendous goalkeeper.”
And while Ricketts didn’t know it at the time when he was traded to Portland from Montreal for fan-favorite ‘keeper Troy Perkins in early August last year, Porter was the driving force behind the move. Ricketts said Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson told him that a yet-to-be-named coach was eyeing him from afar.
“So that’s the reason why I’m here,” Ricketts said. “It makes you want to try to repay the manager you play for.”
Ricketts said Porter has given him the confidence to play his game without worrying about whether one mistake will land him on the bench. And that confidence has been crucial for a player who hasn’t exactly had smooth sailing since he won the 2010 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award with the LA Galaxy.
Injuries led to limited playing time in 2011 and a spot on the bench as the Galaxy won the MLS Cup, and he was traded to Montreal ahead of the 2012 season.
“He gives you the confidence to go out there and express yourself,” Ricketts said of his new coach. “I’m much more settled right now. So when I’m settled, my mind is free. It gives me the chance to express myself, and I’m trying to express myself right now.”
Porter said that confidence has spread to the entire team, crucial for a back line that has been in flux due to injuries and personnel changes since the season started.
“He’s very even-keeled,” Porter said. “And a lot of the vibe [Ricketts] gives is the same vibe I want with my team. … He’s confident, but he’s not too high or low. He’s a very good goalkeeper.”
So when Donovan returns to the Reggae Boyz for a June 4 qualifier at home against Mexico, observers will know where his newfound confidence is coming from. And Donovan can return to his club knowing right where he stands.
“It’s a good team, good coaching staff and a good organization,” Ricketts said. “Things are going well right now.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.