PORTLAND, Ore. – From learning he’d start his first MLS game on opening night, to nearly giving up an own goal and then finally scoring one of his own, Portland Timbers rookie defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste had quite an evening.
To top it off, Jean-Baptiste’s mother flew in from New York to see her son make his pro debut. She ended up watching him help lead the Timbers past the Philadelphia Union in a 3-1 victory in front of a rambunctious, sold-out crowd on a rainy Monday night at JELD-WEN Field.
“It’s really exciting,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I’m not going to lie, it’s really exciting. Knowing that 20,000 people saw my first MLS goal is very exciting for me.”
Jean-Baptiste's 1st MLS Goal
Jean-Baptiste, drafted by Portland in the first round out of UConn in this year’s SuperDraft, started in place of newly acquired Colombian Hanyer Mosquera, who was unavailable because of a delay in his international transfer certificate.
And for a few minutes, it looked like the rookie’s inexperience would cost the Timbers.
A free kick by Philadelphia’s Gabriel Gomez sailed through the defense and nicked off Jean-Baptiste before landing in the back of the net to give the Union a 1-0 lead in the 51st minute.
It was originally ruled an own goal, but later credited to Gomez. Either way, Jean-Baptiste was quick to own the defensive lapse.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Every defender has probably scored an own goal on their team, and the first thing they want to do is get it back for their team. And that was the first thing I thought.”
The sting was quickly alleviated when the big central defender found himself on the end of a set piece by midfielder and team captain Jack Jewsbury.
Jean-Baptiste slid under the curling pass and headed it past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to even the score in the 54th minute.
“It’s pretty heavy,” Jean-Baptiste said of his log slice that he was given after the match commemorating the goal. “It’s very heavy actually. It feels great. I just hope that all my friends and family back home were watching the game.”
Timbers head coach John Spencer said he didn’t hesitate when penciling Jean-Baptiste’s name in the starting 11.
“I’ve got no problems with putting him in,” Spencer said. “I think you’ve got to look at it and say you’ve got to worry about the things you can control. And we could control putting him in to start, and he performed. We don’t expect to put him in to play badly. And players don’t try to play badly, and they try to play well every week. And, as I say, I thought he played particularly well.”
Newly acquired Designated Player Kris Boyd and second-year midfielder Kalif Alhassan added the remaining goals. But Jean-Baptiste’s night was sealed as one he’ll never forget, starting with the low of allowing a goal and then the high of celebrating with the Timbers Army after notching his first professional tally.
“It’s a good experience to have now,” he said. “To know what crowd I’m going to play in front of and what the teams are like around the league. It’s good for my comfort level.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org