If Liam Ridgewell is as comfortable anchoring the Timbers' back line as he is in his own skin, the 30-year-old might be just the defender Portland is looking for.
PTFC's newest signing had his best performance in a Timbers jersey on Saturday night, helping Portland cruise past a hapless Chivas USA side 2-0 at Providence Park.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter called Ridgewell "an absolute animal" and "the man of the match" after Portland earned its first home shutout of the season behind goals from Diego Valeri (his fourth in four matches) and Rodney Wallace (his first after rehabbing a knee injury most of the season).
And there's little doubt Ridgewell—named by Porter to the Major League Soccer All-Star team after just three weeks in the States—is feeling right at home. As reporters waited to speak to Wallace post-match, Ridgewell needled the goal-scorer from across the locker room, encouraging the always-fashion-forward Wallace to put on the rather stylish vest hanging in his locker before turning to face the cameras. Wallace smiled and playfully jested back at "Ridgy" before talking about his goal and the advice he received from the red-hot Valeri pregame.
"[Valeri] said, 'don't hold back today,'" Wallace told the scrum of reporters. "I've been waiting for this moment for a long time. I've been putting in the work day in and day out."
As Porter noted in his postgame presser, the Timbers have little trouble scoring—it's their defending that's at odds with their goals. But with Ridgewell (a Designated Player with 11 seasons in the top-flight English Premiere League under his belt) seamlessly stepping in, things are looking up.
"We're not going to do what we want to do unless we defend well," Porter said. "That was a real point of emphasis this week."
As does Ridgewell's comfort level in Portland so far.
"It's been fantastic," he said of his transition. "I've got the kids over (his son Luca is 8 and daughter Eva is 5) and Mom and Dad. I'm settling into a nice house (on Lake Oswego) and settling into the team."
"A lot of the little plays he made will get lost," Porter said. "But they won't get lost on me."
What's in no way missing? Valeri's dominance of late. His fourth goal in as many matches—a slashing strike after build-up resembling the entrancing rhythm of a maestro—set an MLS record for straight-matches-scored and moved Valeri into a tie for most goals by an MLS Timber. But as ever, the All-Star's humility in the locker room might've matched his touch on the pitch.
Click past the jump for more, including Valeri on his recent run, Wallace and Fanendo Adi on the former's goal, [Unsponsored] moments of the match, highlights and full video of Porter's postgame presser.
"I'm glad about my performance because it's helping the team," Valeri said. "The most important time in the season is this. It's the moment when you go out or in the playoff."
Valeri praised Wallace, who tallied his first strike since returning from a similar knee injury Valeri suffered earlier in his career. Wallace called his goal—and hearing his name chanted by an appreciative/understanding Timbers Army afterward—"something special, for sure."
"I've been waiting for this moment for a long time," Wallace said.
Adi, who set up the 39th-minute goal when he backed down the Chivas USA defense and poked the ball to Wallace for a look at the open net, called the win and clean sheet "a great lift."
"We know how the table is standing," Adi said. "Every win is important to us right now."
Porter said he hoped it was the start of a home winning streak and that the team wants to be "dominant" at home. He called Portland's defense "suffocating" and the first half its best all year, delivering the back four—Ridgewell, slow-to-jell Norberto Paparatto, midseason addition Danny O’Rourke and 2013 stalwart Michael Harrington—what's been rare praise.
"We're getting the balance right," Porter said. "They were tight, they looked like a unit."
PORTER'S POSTGAME PRESSER:
[UNSPONSORED] MOMENTS OF THE MATCH:
7th — Wallace lobs one into the box for Adi, whose header floats similarly over the bar. Best build-up of the night for Portland helped out by to Chivas players tripping over their own feet. BREAKING ANALYSIS: The Goats don't look so good.
9th — TIMBERS GOAL! And there you have it. Valeri with a goal in his fourth straight game—a franchise record—and it's brilliant. He takes a pass from Chara at midfield carries it to top of the box. The Goats, seemingly unaware that it's Diego Fucking Valeri on the ball, give him far too much space, allowing him to cut back and slash one past a diving Dan Kennedy. No chance for the Chivas keeper on that one, and the Timbers lead, 1-0.
16th— Diego Chara with a terrible giveaway, which he wins right back with an awesome tackle/mugging. Chara then goes on one of his signature Holy-shit!-Chara-is-loooooooooose! runs up the pitch to spring Adi in the box. Kennedy, the only player in red and white stripes not transfixed by Chara's honey badgering comes off his line to knock Adi's touch out of danger. Portland having its way with Chivas' inexperienced back line.
39th—TIMBERS GOAL! Should we go ahead and call this one? Valeri finds Adi in the box and he backs down a Chivas defender. With his back to goal he turns and tries a shot, but it pops and spins to Wallace, who volleys it home past Kennedy. Wallace's first goal since returning from a knee injury and Timbers Army acknowledges the moment by chanting his name. Timbers fully in control, 2-0.
52nd—Chivas with their best chance of the night. Ridgewell heads a cross right to Mauro Rosales, who hits a right-footed poke just wide of the post. The Goats must've gotten a talkin' to at halftime, because they're the dominant team for this brief, shining moment.