Timber's task: being a better pro
During any given Portland Timbers match, you are likely to see coach Caleb Porter nearly frothing at the mouth when he sees the mistakes center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste is making. However, you are just as likely to see Porter brimming with pride when he catches glimpses of the second-year MLS players potential excellence.
Jean-Baptiste, 21, knocked in a match-winning header in stoppage time to lead the Timbers over Los Angeles. The 6-2, 205-pounder also committed a foul in the box against Columbus that led to the Crews winning penalty kick.
Ive beat him up enough, here and there, Porter says. I mean that in a positive way. I give him enough sugar and pats on the back to where he knows I like him. At the same time, at the right times, Ive given him jams just to make sure hes locked in and ready.
Jean-Baptiste takes Porters criticism and love the way the Timbers coach intends it.
Hes like my second dad, Jean-Baptiste says. He knows that Im capable of a lot of
things and anything less than perfection is a disappointment to him ... and me. He wants me to be better.
Porters reaction to the way Jean-Baptiste plays, however, is nothing compared to that of Jean-Baptistes mother.
I have to worry more about my mom than anything, Jean-Baptiste says.
Violette Smith grew up playing soccer in her native Haiti. She coached Jean-Baptistes youth travel club and calls him after Timbers matches. How quickly her son picks up the phone depends entirely on how well he played that night.
When I play well, I answer on the first two rings, he says. If I didnt play well, I let it ring for a while and make sure I get my story straight because I know shes probably going to rip me a new one.
In sixth grade, Jean-Baptiste made a friend who would change his life. Her name was Angelica Gonzalez. They instantly became best friends in Brooklyn, N.Y., then high school sweethearts. In January, Jean-Baptiste proposed to her.
According to Cosmopolitan Magazine, Gonzalez got quite the catch. In 2012, Cosmo named Jean-Baptiste to its list of Hot Soccer Players We Cant Resist, citing his humorous tweets.
I wasnt surprised at all, he says, smiling. Im just surprised it took them that long to figure it out.
There wasnt much for him to laugh about during his rookie season of 2012, when he was loaned to the lower-level L.A. Blues for five weeks. He calls the experience humbling and says it made him realize how fortunate he was to have been playing at the countrys highest level.
He returned in time to play in five Timbers games, starting four and scoring one goal, then came into this season determined to be a better pro. He has been a mainstay, with 16 starts in 20 matches played, one goal and one assist. And he wants to get better.
If you get better at the little things and you get better at the things youre good at, he says, youre only going to become a better player.