If you want to win championships, regardless of the sport, you need a strong defence. In October 2020, Valour Football Club took the first step toward a strong spine for the new season. The club ensured defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste would remain in Winnipeg following an excellent performance at the Canadian Premier League’s Island Games. Valour conceded a mere nine goals in seven matches as they narrowly missed out on the playoffs.
Jean-Baptiste is the rock that the team’s defence has been built around for the new campaign. Last season, he played alongside fellow centre-back Julian Dunn. However, Dunn has returned to Toronto FC following a loan spell at Valour. Now, Jean-Baptiste will partner with another central defender, most likely Amir Soto, with the hope of the duo settling early on.
A well-travelled defender, Jean-Baptiste has played much of his club football in North America. He played for the UCONN Huskies at the collegiate level and was named 2011 Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year. After playing just two seasons for the Huskies, he entered the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
The 6ft 2in central defender was already on MLS teams’ radars thanks to spending a year playing for the New York Red Bulls under-23 squad in 2010. Portland Timbers selected Jean-Baptiste No. 8 overall in the 2012 SuperDraft, yet despite his obvious talent, the former UCONN soccer player couldn’t hold down a regular place in the team.
A loan to minor league soccer club Los Angeles Blues (now Orange County SC) was agreed midway through his rookie season. The loan helped Jean-Baptiste gain experience and in 2013, he returned to Portland Timbers, playing 26 times for the club. Despite getting more time with the Timbers, Jean-Baptiste was traded to Chivas USA (remember the Goats?) in 2014.
The move to Los Angeles’ Chivas USA ushered in a period of injuries that saw Jean-Baptiste miss game time. He made 10 appearances for the Goats and joined New York Red Bulls the following season, but never played for the first-team. Unfortunately, the defender was released from his contract midway through the season.
Plenty of soccer players would have given up after being gobbled up by the MLS machine and spat out. Jean-Baptiste was not one of those soccer players. After a short spell with Spain’s Estrella San Agustin that was hindered due to work permit issues, Jean-Baptiste moved to Swedish club Nyköpings BIS then Malaysia’s Terengganu FC to Umeå FC.
Given the chance to move back to North America and play for Valour in 2020, the ex-United States under-18 player jumped at the opportunity. Jean-Baptiste’s performances for Valour didn’t go unnoticed by other clubs. Valour coach John Gale fielded phone calls during the offseason from interested parties. Despite giving Jean-Baptiste reassurance it was okay to leave if he wanted to go, the defender decided to remain at the Winnipeg club.
Jean-Baptiste’s decision to stay was rewarded with the captain’s armband. He is serving as co-captain for the team alongside veteran forward Daryl Fordyce. Centre-back Soto, who stands 6ft 3in, was thought likely to partner Jean-Baptiste when the season kicks off June 27 against Forge FC. The pair could be the tallest, most intimidating duo in the CPL.
Playing a full schedule in 2021 could see more clubs from outside of Canada seeking Jean-Baptiste’s services next term. Before that can happen, he needs to put together another solid campaign for Valour.