Fitting In: Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell finds his niche in the Rose City

Liam Ridgewell, Timbers vs. Dallas, 4.4.15

PORTLAND, Ore. – For those in the Rose City completely unaware of soccer – likely a very small group – Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers would blend right into the background if you passed them on the street.

Both heartily bearded and urban-style conscious, with Ridgewell sporting armfuls of tattoos, it’s a look that has come to define this unique and ever-evolving Pacific Northwest outpost, where the weirdness from the ubiquitous “Keep Portland Weird” slogan has become more of the norm these days.

And in a way few professional athletes do today, Ridgewell – a veteran of 10 seasons in the Barclay's Premier League who signed with Portland midway through last season – has embraced his new city with vigor.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, but when I came up here and visited and met the people – you know people say once the English come here they never leave, and I’ve found a few like that – it does, it fits my lifestyle, my thinking and my personality,” Ridgewell told after a recent training session leading up to Sunday’s nationally televised showdown with expansion side Orlando City SC (2 pm PT, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes). “And it’s great, and I’m so glad [my personality] fits with the boys and the team. It might have been a little bit difficult if I didn’t fit in, would have been a bit tough to settle down and be here.”

Ridgewell’s burgeoning relationship with Portland
was profiled in the latest MLS Insider episode (above)
. He and Borchers, the longtime Real Salt Lake center back who was targeted by Timbers head coach Caleb Porter as a perfect fit to line up alongside Ridgewell, led a camera crew around the city, visiting one of its many famous food carts for some chicken and rice and interacting with fans on the street.

“I really enjoyed it,” Ridgewell said. “And they did such a great job on it, and I’ve had such good feedback on it as well. It was brilliant.”

At first, Ridgewell said, he was hesitant to share a private side of his life, saying he was worried the English press would seize on it in a negative light. But he was glad he agreed.

“You’d either be mobbed or leeched, that’s for sure, depends really,” Ridgewell said of the prospect of doing something similar in the UK. “You’d walk around town and have the cameras on you, and I don’t know if you’d ever get through a whole scene without people running over and doing stuff. You know, I think it says a lot about the town and what it’s like. And it’s good when we can do bits like that; it’d be nice to do things like that in the Premier League, but it can be a little bit difficult.”

And Ridgewell said the scenes depicted in the video aren’t much of a departure of his life when the cameras are switched off.

When he signed with Portland last summer, he immediately purchased a house in the suburb Lake Oswego, on the lake, with the idea of embracing his new American life.

“When I first come to experience America, I thought that I’m going to try to get to everywhere I can get to and try to experience everywhere,” Ridgewell said. “… Of course I walk around a lot of times just trying to have a look and get lost and find my way again. It’s nice to do. You spot a couple fans, and they chat to you a little bit. You would never find them food carts and chicken and rice without walking down there and seeing it.”

He also frequently hosts teammates at his place for dinners or organizes nights out to try new spots in Portland’s world-class dining scene.

“He’s an outgoing guy,” Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe said. “He’s always trying to get the guys together to experience some things that we haven’t experienced here, even though some of us have been here awhile. So yeah, in my opinion he’s done a great job.”

Ridgewell, who has worn the captain’s armband in place of the injured Will Johnson, said it’s all part of being a leader. He said the Timbers have a similar chemistry to his 2011 Birmingham City team that won the 2011 Football League Cup, beating Arsenal in the final.

“When we won the Cup, we had an unbelievable camaraderie, went out to eat, went out to drinks, do bits and bobs,” Ridgewell said. “It’s certainly a team game, and if you can all get on, it’s certainly going to be better for the team. … It’s only going to help us.”

Borchers (left)
has similarly enjoyed his brief time in Portland; he said it was always the road trip he most looked forward to while with RSL because “the city just has so much going on.” Ridgewell said Borchers would be right at home in the Premier League, leading to an instant chemistry between the two.

“He’s like playing with an English center half,” Ridgewell said. “He knows how I think, and I certainly know how he thinks. And it certainly does make it easier.”

With five goals allowed in five games, the results have been promising – and will only get better, Borchers said.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to continue to make mistakes here and there, but I think it’s been pretty good so far,” Borchers said.

From the day Ridgewell arrived in Portland, he made very clear his intentions on embracing the move – as unique as it was for a Premier League mainstay. Now approaching one year with the team, that fact seems more and more apparent. Ridgewell has played in 20 games since his arrival and the team has lost only four games in MLS games that he started. The Londoner also made an appearance in last summers 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star Game held at Providence Park.

This week has been especially rewarding for Ridgewell with his two children, who live with their mother in London, and his parents having arrived in town just in time to see Portland’s first win of the season last weekend – 3-1 over then-Western Conference leading FC Dallas. His son has been at every training session this week, Ridgewell said, and they’ll all be at Sunday’s game as well before leaving town.

“The more comfortable I’ve felt, the more I’ve been able to talk to people and help them and try to guide them,” Ridgewell said. “And I think if I felt uncomfortable, it might have been a little more difficult. And if the boys didn’t understand me or didn’t get where I was coming from, then I would have struggled a little bit more and been a little more difficult. It’s been an easy transition to be honest.”

Dan Itel covers the Portland Timbers for