PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers rookie defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste is a realist. He knows his opportunity to start in two rather large games at JELD-WEN Field is due mostly to a rash of injuries to the Timbers backline.
But that hasn’t stopped Jean-Baptiste, Portland’s first-round pick in this year’s SuperDraft out of the University of Connecticut, from making the most of his chance.
“It would mean something more if I was still getting the minutes I have if everybody was back, as opposed to the injuries,” Jean-Baptiste said. “But regardless, I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunities that have been given to me and make an impact on the game.”
Jean-Baptiste got his first chance in Portland’s season opener when expected starter Hanyer Mosquera’s International Transfer Certificate didn’t come through in time. And the rookie made the most of the night, scoring the Timbers’ first goal on a header in a 3-1 win over Philadelphia.
WATCH: Jean-Baptiste scores in opener
He started again alongside Eric Brunner, in last Saturday’s game against Real Salt Lake thanks to a concussion and fractured eye socket suffered by Mosquera the previous week against New England.
Unfortunately for Jean-Baptiste, the RSL game wasn’t as memorable after the visitors scored two goals in the last four minutes to escape with a 3-2 win. And he said he placed a lot of the responsibility of the late-game collapse on his shoulders.
“My position is a position that is noticed,” he said. “And they expect perfection all the time. Giving away balls, bad heading, not tracking, losing a man, it’s critical, especially at the end of the game against that type of team. They’ll make you pay for it.”
Jean-Baptiste has already made his share of rookie mistakes. Philadelphia’s only goal was initially called an own goal when Gabriel Gómez’s shot first nicked off Jean-Baptiste before landing in the net. And he says Saturday’s collapse, when he and the Timbers defense allowed last-minute goals by Jonny Steele and Kyle Beckerman, has been particularly hard on him and his teammates.
“I look back at what I did wrong, I look back at the goals, I look at what I could have done, what I should have done,” he said. “I feel like that’s what everybody does. You just want to look back at what I could have done better.”
But Timbers head coach John Spencer said the fact that the rookie hasn’t shied away from the big stage isn’t a surprise. And with Mosquera out indefinitely, along with injuries to Mamadou “Futty” Danso and David Horst still keeping them sidelined, Jean-Baptiste will keep getting the chance to prove himself again on Saturday against Chivas USA (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“I’m somewhat happy with my play,” Jean-Baptiste said. “There are times when I look back and think I still could have done more. Or at the end of the game you walk off the field and think, ‘Did I leave it all on the field?’”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.