Portland Timbers vice-captain Liam Ridgewell is one of the most underrated central defenders in MLS, head coach Caleb Porter has told the club’s official website.
Ridgewell, 30, joined the Timbers on a free transfer last June after leaving West Bromwich Albion and has since established himself as one of the first names on Porter’s teamsheet during a run of 30 straight starts.
In that time, the club have recorded 12 clean sheets and amassed a record of 14 wins, eight draw and eight defeats, which the former US Under-23 boss believes is no coincidence.
Speaking after a three-game stretch in which his side have conceded just one goal, Porter said: “I think Liam is one of the most underrated central defenders in the league. I don’t know what other coaches think or what other people think, but I know what I think.
“And I think he’s proven that in his time here, and the results speak for themselves in terms of the wins and clean sheets. Since he’s arrived we’ve really stabilized out backline, and he’s a big part of that. He’s a quality central defender.
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“He doesn’t maybe always jump out as making a ton of plays, but he’s just a really solid central defender, positionally solid, good on the ball, and he makes a lot of little things look routine,” continued Porter. “Which is good because we obviously brought him in to be a top-five central defender, and I think he’s shown that.”
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has been a bit more outspoken in his views on Ridgewell, though, taking to Twitter over the past week to hail the former Aston Villa man as the league’s best centre-back through the first 15 weeks of the 2015 campaign.
@ChrisRifer you are really out on a limb w this one! Hasnt been a better center back in MLS this yr— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) June 8, 2015
Ridgewell, whose 111 clearances are the third most in MLS this season, might have been singled out for special praise but the other members of the team’s backline also deserve major plaudits for their recent performances.
Full-backs Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana have been in All-Star form of late, while offseason acquisition Nat Borchers has looked like a Defender of the Year contender in the heart of defence – a fact which has not been lost on his centre-back partner.
“Every day in training, every game we play, we’re learning about each other more and more, and everyone is growing in confidence and experience as well,” added Ridgewell. “So I think it’s been a really good year for that. Alvas, Jorge, I’ve seen them grow, watching last year to now has been really good, and they look more and more confident. And that just gives me and Nat more confidence.”
After recovering from a slow start to the season, the Timbers are now on a four-game winning streak and, with talismanic midfielders Will Johnson and Diego Valeri now back from long-term injuries, the rest of MLS should beware.
Sitting six points behind Supporters’ Shield leaders Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference, a proven goalscorer should still be on their summer shopping list but, if their Ridgewell-led defence can hold strong and Valeri can get back to 2014's MVP-calibre form, then Porter’s side have all the makings of a title-contending side.