Portland Timbers management believes it has a solution to its most perplexing puzzle of this Major League Soccer season.
Wednesday’s announcement that the Timbers have added veteran English defender Liam Ridgewell as their third Designated Player brings experience to a position where injuries and inconsistent play have marked the first half of the 2014 season.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter noted that Ridgewell, 29, has played in more than 250 Barclay’s Premier League matches against many of the world’s best forwards.
“This pedigree, along with his leadership qualities and technical ability as a left-sided central defender, makes him an ideal choice to enhance our back line for the second half of the season and beyond,” Porter said.
A former member of England’s under-21 national team, Ridgewell has played in the top English league for 11 seasons, playing with Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion. Most recently, he spent two-plus seasons with West Brom and appeared in 33 league matches last season. He became a free agent after the 2013-14 season when West Brom decided not to retain Ridgewell.
Portland now has the maximum three Designated Players on its roster. Designated Players can be paid more than the amount they cost against the MLS salary cap. On Monday, the Timbers announced the acquisition of Nigerian forward Fanendo Adi as a Designated Player. Argentine midfielder Diego Valeri has been on a Designated Player contract since coming to Portland last season.
As is MLS and club policy, terms of the deal were not announced. Ridgewell will join the Timbers when the team receives his FIFA International Transfer Certificate and P-1 visa.
Ridgewell fills the last of eight international slots the Timbers currently own. Pa Modou Kah and Valeri have acquired green cards and thus don’t take up international slots.
Ridgewell is only the third defender to be made a Designated Player in MLS. The Los Angeles Galaxy signed Omar Gonzalez to a DP contract last season. Mexican international Rafa Marquez was a DP with the New York Red Bulls from 2010 to 2012.
The 6-foot-2 Ridgewell has played both as a central defender and left back. In Portland, he figures to be a left-side central defender.
With 27 goals allowed through 16 MLS matches, Portland’s defense is near the bottom of the league. The Timbers have used five players in their two center back spots — Kah, Futty Danso, Norberto Paparatto, Rauwshan McKenzie and Danny O’Rourke — and have seldom had the same pairing in consecutive matches. Three weeks ago, Portland traded Danso to Montreal.
Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson, in a prepared statement, said Ridgewell attended a Timbers home match and was “incredibly taken by the fans and atmosphere” at Providence Park. Wilkinson said that Ridgewell turned down offers to remain in the Premier League to come to Portland.
After the announcement, Ridgewell Tweeted that he is delighted and “can’t wait to get started. A new challenge in my career.”
The Timbers resume MLS play on Friday, hosting Sporting Kansas City.