PORTLAND, Ore. – Chris Wondolowski’s shot at MLS history will go through JELD-WEN Field and the Portland Timbers on Saturday.
And standing in the way, in part, could be defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Injuries may force Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson’s hand in starting the first-round draft pick out of the University of Connecticut on a night when the attention of North American soccer fans will turn to the Rose City, as one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers takes aim at the single-season goal record.
“I don’t really look at it like we’re keeping him from the record,” Jean-Baptiste said of playing the role of villain in Saturday’s game against the Earthquakes (3:30pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 101.1 FM KXL / La Pantera 940). “I look at it as if we’re going to play another team, and we’re going out there to perform well and keep a clean sheet.
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"The fact that he’s chasing for that record – too bad for him. We’re still just going to go out there and do what we’re meant to do and keep a clean sheet and win the game.”
Wilkinson hasn’t made Jean-Baptiste’s status official and he was unavailable after the team’s training session Friday at a drizzly JELD-WEN. But the facts paint a clear picture.
Eric Brunner and Mamadou “Futty” Danso underwent surgeries this week for respective injuries. And Hanyer Mosquera, who along with David Horst and Danso, has the most starts at center back this season, is recovering from a knee injury and is listed as questionable.
That leaves Jean-Baptiste as the only healthy body to start alongside Horst. It would be the 20-year-old’s first start and appearance since April 7 and fourth start of the season. He started three of the Timbers’ first five games of the season as the club battled through a rash of injuries, but hasn't seen first-team action since.
“It’s almost like the first game when it was the home opener, I’ll just go out there and perform as well as I can,” he said.
Of course, it won’t just be Jean-Baptiste who has a hand in the villain role. In fact, Horst was marking “Wondo” when he erupted for two goals in the final 17 minutes of their Sept. 19 match at Buck Shaw Stadium to turn a 2-0 Timbers win into a 2-2 draw. But it was also Horst who marked Wondo on July 3 in the Timbers 2-1 win where the San Jose forward was held to only one off-target shot for the entire match.
Faced with the prospect of a rematch, Horst didn’t mince words.
“I’m going to make sure that our defense, we’re not going to let Wondo break this record on Saturday,” Horst said. “First goal is go out there and win the game, second one is to not let him break this record. I’m not going to get my name in the record books for having him score it against me.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.