The Portland Timbers first round draft pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Andrew Jean-Baptiste was only 19 years old when he got the start on opening day, after injuries and visa issues kept John Spencer's first choices out of the lineup. It didn't take long for AJB to reveal his ability -- and his character -- to the home fans.
Paired with Eric Brunner on the back line, Jean-Baptiste used his speed to chase down every ball and his size to knock back every attacker. It might all have been for naught, though, when a rookie mistake led to what probably should have been scored as an own goal. But he found his own equalizer just three minutes later, skipping a Jack Jewsbury free kick under Zack McMath and into the net.
Resilience, we found out that night, is Jean-Baptiste's middle name. Indeed, after a discouraging rookie year, making just five appearances and spending a month on loan with LA Blues, he came back with 22 starts in 2013.
Among his sophomore year highlights -- assisting Rodney Wallace's 90th minute equalizer in Seattle, pickpocketing Robbie Keane to preserve a draw in stoppage time in Los Angeles, and scoring the stoppage time winner against LA at Jeld Wen Field.
Part of that resilience can be chalked up to his raw physical ability. Even as his youth and inexperience often drew him out of position, his speed and size more often than not allowed him to recover in time to prevent a quality chance on goal.
But a guy's gotta have some confidence, too, to keep overcoming that kind of adversity. AJB? He's got confidence coming out of his ears.
That confidence will serve him well as he continues his career in Carson, California. We wish him all the best.
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