The Portland Timbers once again were SuperDraft movers and shakers after dealing a signature piece from their inaugural season.
To little surprise after a disappointing 2011 campaign, veteran forward Kenny Cooper was dealt before the SuperDraft on Tuesday to the New York Red Bulls for their first pick of the 2013 SuperDraft and allocation money. Portland made three draft-day deals last year.
Portland general manager Gavin Wilkinson said Cooper’s well-publicized struggles early last season made moving him an offseason priority.
“The coaching staff and myself sat down and looked at ways and areas where we could improve as a team,” Wilkinson told MLSsoccer.com at the draft’s conclusion on Thursday. “Someone who would hold the ball up, somebody who was maybe a little bit more hard-nosed, played with a little bit more maturity, very mobile, still had pace. And at that stage, we decided that holding Kenny and Kenny’s budget number maybe wasn’t the best thing for the development of the group.”
With Cooper out of the picture, the Timbers then used the eighth overall pick to address another pressing concern: the back line.
With defender David Horst expected to miss five to seven months after having hip surgery, Portland selected central defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Jean-Baptiste was named Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year after his sophomore season at Connecticut.
“We feel he has the ability to come in and make an impact,” Wilkinson said.
Many analysts pegged Jean-Baptiste as an MLS-ready player, and Wilkinson said he was surprised he fell to No. 8.
“We were very hopeful – we weren’t optimistic to be honest – we were hopeful that he would drop to No. 8,” Wilkinson said. “And when the No. 7 pick finished, we were able to get him, and were delighted.”
“If he comes into the preseason with the right mindset and plays well, I know that [head coach John Spencer] is very, very open to putting, what he feels, are the best players out there," Wilkinson added. "So he has every chance that he can possibly have.”
Wilkinson said the Timbers coaching staff was impressed with the versatility of their second-round pick, Notre Dame midfielder Brendan King, who played four positions at the recent Player Combine.
WATCH: Andrew Jean-Baptiste talks to MLSsoccer.com
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.