PORTLAND, Ore.—For anyone who has grown up watching sports in America, playoffs are just part of the landscape.
For Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell – or anyone who has played an entire career overseas – playoffs are rather unique in the soccer landscape. Ridgewell spent his entire career in the English Premier League before joining the Timbers midway through last season, and the EPL decides its champion based on the final table after 38 league games.
The Timbers missed out on the MLS Cup Playoffs at the conclusion of Ridgewell’s first season – by a point. Now Ridgewell is in the midst of his premiere postseason experience, which continues Sunday when Portland host FC Dallas in Leg 1 of the Western Conference Championship (7:30 pm ET; FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN5).
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“Coming here I didn’t know too much about the playoffs,” said Ridgewell, on a Wednesday conference call. “Obviously I knew the league situation, but I’ve always heard that playoffs were a big deal in basketball and American football, as well. So missing out last year by a point was a big blow to myself and everybody.
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“So this year I think we kicked off the season knowing that and having felt that pain have taken that into the season.”
It's certainly been quite the first experience for the veteran center back:
The Timbers captain – Ridgewell inherited the armband from Will Johnson while the latter recovers from minor surgery – was part of Portland’s wild shootout victory over Sporting Kansas City in the Knockout Round.
Ridgewell then led a shutdown defensive performance in the Conference Semifinal against Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps, holding them scoreless over two legs in a 2-0 aggregate victory.
“We’ve all been looking forward to the playoffs, and we certainly feel the buzz around the city a little bit differently,” he said. “There’s always a big buzz around league games, so the playoffs have something added and special on it, and it’s a pleasure to be involved in it. It’s been a good run.”
Ridgewell, however, isn’t a stranger to cup competitions. He was part of the 2011 Birmingham City team that shocked Arsenal in the Football League Cup final (now the Capitol One Cup), played at legendary Wembley Stadium in London.
Ridgewell said there is a lot about that tournament that correlates with the Timbers current run.
“It was incredible,” Ridgewell said, in an interview on the Talk Timbers radio show. “The early few rounds you don’t really expect to go all the way because you’re a smaller club and people are talking about the big clubs still being in it. But the more you get closer, like we are now, the more you get closer the more you feel for it, and the more you think, ‘You know what we can actually do something, we can actually do something here and actually make history,’ as we did at Birmingham and as we could do with the Timbers. Every game is like a cup game.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.