Timbers select Connecticut defender with first-round pick

Jean-Baptiste could fill need area on roster

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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The Portland Timbers grabbed one player on their wish list and another they hope will bring needed versatility to the club during Thursday’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a central defender out of Connecticut, was drafted by Portland with the No. 8 pick. In the second round, at No. 27 overall, the Timbers selected Notre Dame midfielder Brendan King.

Both players fill immediate needs and will be given the opportunity to compete for playing time when training camp begins on Jan. 23, according to general manager Gavin Wilkinson and coach John Spencer.

Spencer described Jean-Baptiste as “a big, strong physical player, and not many people run past him.”

Central defender is a position of need for the Timbers. David Horst recently had hip surgery that will sideline him for five to seven months, leaving Eric Brunner and Mamadou “Futty” Danso as the only established center backs on the roster.

Wilkinson said he was “shocked” that Jean-Baptiste was available at No. 8 in the draft, which was held in Kansas City.

Wilkinson described Jean-Baptiste, who is listed as 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, as imposing and athletic.

“We’ll see how versatile he is when he gets to training camp,” Wilkinson said. “He’s got a great personality, and I think he’ll fit in very well.”

“I’m very excited,” Jean-Baptiste said. He said he intends to work hard to show the coaching staff that he deserves to play.

Jean-Baptiste is a member of Generation Adidas, meaning his contract will not count against the salary cap — which made Jean-Baptiste an especially attractive selection.

Generation Adidas is a program used by MLS to sign young players to their first professional contract as a way of keeping promising young talent in the league. Midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who Portland drafted second overall in 2011, is a Generation Adidas player.

Jean-Baptiste, 19, said he has played against older players throughout his youth soccer and college careers. The jump to MLS will be more challenging, he said, but is not intimidating.

“My knowledge of the game can only get better. I look forward to working with the veteran players (in Portland) and learning from them,” he said.

Wilkinson said King’s experience playing every midfield position and both wide defensive slots brings needed versatility to the Timbers’ roster.

King had six goals and 14 assists in his four seasons at Notre Dame.

During his first two years at Notre Dame, King was a teammate of Timbers forward Bright Dike. He was a member of the U.S. national team that played in the 2007 under-17 World Cup.

Timbers assistant coach Amos Magee, who took the lead on tracking college players for the Timbers, identified King as a player to keep an eye on during the college season, Wilkinson said.