Timbers move "a new lease on life" for Newcastle ex Steven Taylor

Steven Taylor - Newcastle - February 2016

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Steven Taylor is itching to begin the next phase of his career.

Signed this week to bolster the Portland Timbers back line, the former Newcastle United center back said he is excited about the chance to play in Major League Soccer and to compete for championships.

“It’s a new challenge for me, a new chapter in my career,” Taylor said after the Timbers Tuesday training session. “And I want to win something. I think back in England, the chance to win something was very little.”

Taylor, 30, compared the move to Portland with the feeling he had when he signed with his hometown Newcastle United as a 16-year-old.

“It’s a new lease on life for me out here now,” Taylor said, adding “the excitement’s back. I’ve got my happy feet.”

From the Timbers perspective, Taylor will bring experience to a back line that has dealt with injury challenges all season, including the season-ending injury to starting center back Nat Borchers. Once fit – likely a couple of weeks out – Taylor will be expected to start at the right center back spot alongside Liam Ridgewell.

Injuries have sidelined Taylor regularly during his career. Last season he fought a hamstring injury and played in only 10 league games as Newcastle wound up getting relegated from the Premiership. He did play the final match of the season, which Timbers coach Caleb Porter pointed to as important evidence of Taylor’s health.

Porter said he expects Taylor to bring a physical element to the middle of Portland’s defense.

With their combined English Premier League experience, Taylor and Ridgewell should complement one other, Porter said.

“They’re similar in some ways. They’re focused, smart, intelligent defenders. Good on the ball,” Porter said. “But you’ve got one guy [Ridgewell] who’s a little bit more of a reader of the game and one guy [Taylor] that’s a little bit more of a hammer.”

Years ago, Taylor and Ridgewell were briefly teammates in England’s youth national-team system. Taylor said playing alongside a fellow Premier League veteran in Ridgewell should help him make a smooth transition to MLS, noting that his countryman has told him of challenges like travel, heat and top-flight strikers.

Taylor said he watched MLS games on Sky Sports in England and was impressed by the growth of the league.

“There’s some top-top class players. It’s not like maybe 10 years ago, five years ago, [when] you didn’t have that here,” he said. “Now it’s a big chapter for myself to come across here and I’m relishing the opportunity.”

The Timbers on Tuesday announced the acquisition of another central defender, 23-year-old Nigerian Gbenga Arokoyo. To make room on the roster, they waved 2015 third-round SuperDraft pick Anthony Manning.

The 6-foot-2 Arokoyo has played in top leagues in Sweden and Turkey since turning pro in 2010. In May, he made his debut for Nigeria’s national team.

“He’s a really talented, athletic, up-and-coming defender that if we need to play now, he’ll be ready. But he also needs some work in some areas,” Porter said.