August 22nd, 2012 by Michael Orr
With LA Blues finishing its 2012 season on August 19, the terms of Portland defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s loan agreement were satisfied and he was free to rejoin the Timbers. Today’s training session was the first for the team since its two-game road trip and included Jean-Baptiste for the first time since early July. “I missed these guys. At the same time, I still feel like it’s January 20th and I’m looking at a lot of new faces. But it’s good to be back,” said Jean-Baptiste today after both the team’s regular training session and an additional session for young players.
As with any loan of a young player, Gavin Wilkinson hoped to get the club’s top draft pick more playing time than he was experiencing in the truncated MLS Reserve League. With a working relationship with the Blues in place thanks to Bright Dike’s loan earlier this season, the opportunity was perfect to send the 20-year old to California for several months. Now, with Chris Taylor moved to the club’s inactive list, Jean-Baptiste has been welcomed back into the fold with two months left in the MLS season.
Said Jean-Baptiste: “I came back with a lot more confidence than I had in the beginning. The games that I got in [gave me] a lot of experience. That builds up my confidence a bit. I played five or six games and kept four shut-outs. I’m pretty happy about it coming back knowing that I kept four shut-outs with a team that I’d never played with or even knew anybody.”
LA manager Charlie Naimo was impressed with Jean-Baptiste, just as he was with Dike: “Andrew was a great addition to our team. He is a great young talent that has a bright future. We saw production the very first day he met the team in Florida for our matches vs Antigua leading our defense with a pair of shut-outs. His presence remained positive throughout the remainder of the season.”
Buoyed by his chance to start and play meaningful matches over the summer, Jean-Baptiste admits he must now shift his priorities. “When you’re not playing with the first team, the best thing you can do is stay fit. I’m going to do whatever I can in training to simulate games as much as possible. Right now, if I’m not playing in the games, training is all I have,” he said. While playing opportunities are possible in the Timbers’ three remaining reserve games, Portland’s rookie defender says his performances in training are vital.
Jean-Baptiste departed on July 11, just two days after the sacking of manager John Spencer. Much has changed in Portland in the interim, including the introduction of new assistant coach Sean McAuley. Said Jean-Baptiste, “I love it a lot [working with McAuley]. With that coaching behind my back, along with Gavin and the rest of the coaching staff, I’m only going to get better as a player for the Timbers.”
Wilkinson stated today that Jean-Baptiste will be available on Sunday when Portland’s reserves host San Jose Earthquakes at Jeld-Wen Field. With Eric Brunner and Futty Danso still ahead of the youngster at center back, it is not yet known if Jean-Baptiste will feature this weekend. But whenever that next chances comes, Jean-Baptiste will be prepared: “All I can do is play well and communicate with my back line. The best thing I can do is keep shut-outs. You can’t lose a game if you have a shut-out.”