PORTLAND, Ore. – The reviews are in from Liam Ridgewell’s debut with the Portland Timbers, and the newly signed Designated Player’s 90-minute shift in Portland’s 2-1 victory Friday night over the Colorado Rapids received a resounding two thumbs up.
Thrust into the lineup after just five days of training, the English center back shepherded a beleaguered backline to the tune of just one goal allowed, from an early corner kick, in an overall defensive performance that appeared to gain steam as the game progressed.
“It was huge,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said of Ridgewell’s performance. “He gives people confidence just by his presence. When he walks out onto the field, it’s a big lift for everybody, supporters included, to have a guy like that.”
Ridgewell didn’t waste any time letting the Portland defense – which came into the game having allowed 32 goals in 19 games – who was in charge, barking out orders and directing traffic from the outset.
“I think I’ve done that all my career, and some people might get fed up with me and tell me to shut up,” Ridgewell said of his vocal style. “But it just comes natural to me, and hopefully I can bring that to the team and help everyone around me.”
Signed from English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion as one of MLS’s few defensive DPs, Ridgewell joined the Timbers in the midst of his offseason. Friday marked his first game action since his regular season ended in April, but he said there was no ill effect.
“It was fantastic,” Ridgewell said. “The only way to get to know everybody and get used to the crowd and the game is to go out there and play. So it was very good to get out there and do that, and it was special to win the game. So it was a good day all around.”
The night did get off to an auspicious start when Deshorn Brown scored off a corner kick in the 16th minute. But in addition to keeping the backline in shape for the next 75-plus minutes, Ridgewell also had a hand in sparking Portland’s rally, according to Johnson.
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“I thought his passing was awesome, the way he split the lines, it’s just awesome having a guy like that back there who can play those through balls,” Johnson said. “His leadership, his class, his quality, that’s why we brought him here to make everyone else better. We know he’s a good player, anybody can tell you he’s a good player, but great players make the other three guys on the backline better as well, and that’s what he did.”
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said Ridgewell exemplified just how valuable the defender's addition will be to the club by talking about how the Rapids were pushing for a late equalizer. Colorado midfielder Dillon Powers made a run to the top of the box, when Ridgewell intervened.
“He just held his position and cut the shot out,” Porter said. “It’s those little plays that we need our defenders to make to win games. This game is a game of moments, and it’s the little things that wins you games. And I thought he did a lot of little things that helped us.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.