TIGARD, Ore. — After taking just two points from their five-match road trip to open the season, the Portland Timbers have turned things around dramatically, winning their last four matches and moving swiftly up the table in the Western Conference.
That change in the Timbers’ fortunes has seen the side go from 12 goals conceded in those opening five games to just two since returning to the friendly confines of Providence Park just over a month ago.
Now riding a 279-minute shutout streak capped by a 1-0 win over archrival Seattle, the Timbers come into this weekend’s match against high-flying expansion side LAFC looking to continue their strong defensive play with a back line anchored by Liam Ridgewell.
“There is a lot to look out for [from LAFC],” Ridgewell said after training on Thursday, “But in the last three weeks — certainly since I’ve been playing — it has been about keeping our positions and being compact. Staying in our positions and letting players run into us rather than us following them around and getting confused.”
A defensive mainstay for the Timbers since joining the side in 2014 and the captain under previous head coach Caleb Porter, Ridgewell started the 2018 season in the starting XI for the Timbers, but was left out after a calamitous 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in Week 2.
“It was a pretty hard time in my career sitting there and watching the squad and not being involved,” Ridgewell said. “But things happen in football and you get over it and you move on. Certainly I have just tried to bring my experience in dominating the game and trying to help people get better and the team get better. Hopefully that comes across on the TV or broadcast on the radio.”
For Timbers coach Giovanni Saravese, Ridgewell may have been out of the 18, but he was never out of the team’s plans.
“I always said all along that [Ridgewell] was an important player,” Saravese told the press on Wednesday. “You heard me saying that before he came back because I knew that he could provide what he is providing right now for us. He has done it before and he is doing it now in the matches that he has played; he is organizing the defense and he is contributing with his experience and his quality. So, that is something that we expected: that at some point he was going to come back.”
Coming into an anticipated match against LAFC Saturday (3 pm ET | FOX — Full TV & streaming info), Saravese likes what he sees from a Timbers squad that has already changed dramatically over the first nine games of the season.
“I am very pleased with the progress of our team, how well the guys are working, how much competition we are creating in practice, how everyone wants to participate, and how everybody is working for each other to make us a more solid team,” Savarese said.