The two center backs – Borchers an MLS veteran and Ridgewell an English Premier League stalwart – compliment each other perfectly in their style of play on the field and stylistically off it. But somewhere in there, goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey has a role in forming one of the top defenses in the league.
“For me, he’s been one of our best defensive players because he plays with such a calm and a veteran presence and makes massive saves,” Borchers said at the Timbers training facility following his team’s 1-0 win Saturday over Real Salt Lake, which marked Kwarasey’s league-leading 11th clean sheet.
Kwarasey may not have the flair of Borchers’ big, red beard or the vocal nature of Ridgewell’s leadership style. In fact, he’s quite soft-spoken with the media and always deflects praise toward the entire team, but Kwarasey – signed over the offseason to replace two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Donovan Ricketts – is an equally big part of Portland’s defensive success.
“Of course it’s nice, but it’s a team thing,” Kwarasey said of his clean-sheet haul. “I think you can say, ‘Of course I’m the one standing in the back there,’ but I’ll say the team leads in clean sheets this season. And hopefully we can continue to keep it clean at home and also get a couple clean sheets away.”
His importance has been especially true of late.
He’s turned in three straight clean sheets and come up with some of the more spectacular saves in his time in the Rose City in that stretch. Against RSL, he helped Portland withstand a first-half onslaught with an outstretched leaping save on Luke Mulholland, an effort that is up for Week 24 Save of the Week.
Two weeks ago in a scoreless draw on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes, Kwarasey stoned Chris Wondolowski on an early golden chance to set the tone for the defensive performance.
“The save against Luke Mulholland was just world class, so we’re fortunate to have him back there, and he’s been a big part of why we’ve been so good recently and during the season defensively,” Borchers said.
Kwarasey doesn’t always have a lot to do – he’s ninth in the league with 61 saves – but that is also a testament to the team defense playing in front of him. Moreover, his goals against average of 1.04 is tied for third among starters. That, along with his ability to play the ball, has made the Ghanaian international’s acquisition from Stromsgodset in the Norwegian Tippeligaen a welcome addition to the Timbers defense – one that is growing in confidence and comfort level as the season progresses.
“It feels like I’m still learning every week, and I’m coming to different stadiums every having different experiences,” Kwarasey said. “It feels more like this is my team and the league I’m playing in right now than it did when I just got here, so I’m getting more comfortable.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.