Portland Timbers captain Liam Ridgewell scored his first goal of the season for the MLS Cup holders on Wednesday night as they secured a narrow 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes at Providence Park.
The former Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion defender gave the hosts the lead 11 minutes into the match when he got onto the end of Diego Valeri’s free-kick at the far post and sent a thumping header past stranded goalkeeper David Bingham.
Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 2, 2016
Dairon Asprilla later put the Timbers down to 10 men just before the break when he was shown a straight red card for elbowing Earthquakes left-back Jordan Stewart in the head while the pair jostled for a high ball in midfield, but Caleb Porter’s men held off a second-half onslaught to secure all three points.
The result marked the club’s first clean sheet of the season, and having been forced to field a depleted line-up due to injuries and international call-ups, head coach Porter was delighted with how his side performed.
"The guys in that locker room, I couldn't be more proud of," he told timbers.com after the game. "I told them, they remind me of why I do this every day because the amount of fight and heart they showed to get that result, that's not easy. It's very difficult to get a result down a man for 45 minutes.
"Lesser teams, they would've crumbled, and here we are three games later, unbeaten with seven points. It doesn't surprise me, because I know the character of these guys and I'll go to war with them every day."
Ridgewell, who has started the Timbers’ last seven games since returning from a hamstring strain, added on scoring the winner: “It felt great. I think it’s a long time coming, to be honest with you. I work on it day in and day out, certainly with set pieces.
“I think someone asked this morning if I’ve scored on a set play. It felt great, certainly to get the win and to get the result at home was fantastic.”
After winning their first-ever MLS Cup title last season, the Timbers have endured a slow start to the 2016 campaign, having recorded just five wins, four draws and suffered six defeats in their first 15 matches to leave them sitting seventh in the Western Conference on 19 points – nine behind conference leaders the Colorado Rapids.
Nevertheless, the win over San Jose extended the club's unbeaten run to three games going into the league's two-week break for the group stage of the Copa America Centenario, and Ridgewell believes momentum is now on their side.
“It’s huge. Certainly in the squad, with new players coming in and playing games, it’s all about squad game,” the veteran centre-back told timbers.com. “We’ve had a lot of injuries and different things go on this season.
“You saw Taylor [Peay] come in today, you saw Ned [Grabavoy] come in today. It’s a big confidence boost to the group and we’re going to need everyone throughout the season, so it’s nice going into the break knowing everyone stepped up to the plate and played well.”