Bye Bye Beast

So, farewell then, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and thanks for the memories.

Whereas the departure of Ryan Miller and David Horst had an inevitability about them, AJB’s trade to Chivas USA came more as a surprise. The player is young, still only 21, but has racked up over 2000 minutes in MLS already, alongside the likes of Mikael Silvestre and Pa Moudou Kah.

It perhaps asking a bit too much of a second year rookie to anchor the back-four, but that’s what’s effectively been asked of AJB. His presence, alongside Harrington and Ricketts (and latterly, Jewsbury) was a constant over much of the year. Danso and Kah took turns slotting in alongside AJB for the bulk of the time, and there was a time when it seemed like it was working: between the 1-1 draw with Dallas on the 8th of May to the 0-0 draw with Philly on the 20th of July, a run of 11 games (AJB played in 10), the Timbers conceded only 7 (0.7 goals per game). Danso played in the first 3, with Kah playing most of the rest.

This was a stark contrast to the start of the season where Jean-Baptiste had played in the first 4 games, where the Timbers had shipped 8 goals (2 goals per game). In the five matches after this rocky start, AJB’s role was restricted to some sub appearances with the team recording 3 clean sheets in 5 (0.6 goals per game). The injury to Silvestre broke up a promising Silvestre/Danso partnership at the back, having already seen a promising Silvestre/Horst partnership broken up by injury, and we were back to Danso/AJB.

For two months, it looked like AJB might just crack this Major League Soccer thing ahead of schedule (since Plan A didn’t involve The Beast in the First XI).

And then the wheels came off. In the 8 games post Philly, till he was “rested” after the 1-1 draw against Chivas USA on 14th September, the team conceded 13 (1.625 goals per game). Almost a goal a game worse off, something had to change and having tried Kah and McKenzie alongside AJB to no avail, Porter took out Jean-Baptiste for Danso, constructing The Great Wall of Gambia in the process, and the team kept 5 clean sheets in the final 6 regular season games (0.333 goals per game). Even allowing for the postseason goal gluts (2 goals per game), the team were better off to the tune of 0.625 goals a game having lost 10 goals in the final 10 games. A not insignificant number when you consider that works out to 21 goals over a 34 game season.

Pooling the figures together, you get this:

AJB Table

It seems like the calculation made by Wilkinson and Porter are that the purple patch was as much due to the heroics of Donovan Ricketts, and hard work of the guys around AJB as anything the player himself did, and going forward his style was not going to be a great fit for the team. Kah and Futty were solid enough, even if they did flag/come up short against the league’s best in postseason play, so finding some different pieces to the defensive puzzle is more important than hitching our trailer to the Jean-Baptiste Project bandwagon.

Like David Horst, AJB leaves with some log slices and lot of love from the stands and, I’m sure, everyone at the club, but in the pursuit of improvement every year, and with work needed to bring the defence onto the same page as the rest of the team, it’ll mean that some favourites and old heads will be moving on. AJB will land somewhere that fits better, and go on to carve out a good career in MLS or beyond if he wills it. In the meantime, the story in Portland goes on without The Beast.

2 thoughts on “Bye Bye Beast

  1. My fear is that Beast is going to improve and improve and will someday be on the USMNT. I would have loved that if he’d been wearing green and gold, but elsewhere? It’ll just hurt to watch.

    Meanwhile, what’s Gavin’s plan for the future? Futty and Kah and Silvestre? Try to draft a better version of Beast? Trade for someone?

    1. Stupid crashing computer ate my longer reply, so I’ll keep this one brief…

      I think at least 1, maybe 2 of those three goes this offseason. Age is a factor, but also speed – a slow defence means you have to play deeper to limit balls over the top (since Ricketts isn’t lighting quick either, and I’d rather he didn’t have to exert himself like that anyway, you know?) which has a knock on effect of forcing your full backs to cover more ground, starting from deeper, and opening up spaces in front that good players can exploit.

      We need someone quick, but as the trade of AJB (as well as Horst and Mosquera’s departures) shows, Porter wants guys who are as comfortable with the ball at their feet as they are nicking the ball away before trouble develops. Silvestre fits that mould, or did at least, though we’ll never know for sure, and Kah is a halfway house between the “big guy at the back” old school defender of a Danso or Horst and the more cultured Silvestre. AJB has more of the athlete than thinker about his play so far, and it’s telling that he is consistently outpassed by his partner in defence, especially when it comes to accurate forward balls. Going back to front doesn’t = long ball football, if the guy doing the passing isn’t just hoofing it forward to the big guy up front, and being able to turnover deep defence into lightning offense in less than a second is a pretty good weapon to have.

      Finding a guy who fits the mould can be hard on MLS salary cap money, but that is a huge hole to fill on the team. Gavin could really earn some kudos if he pulls of a big signing there.

      We also need to fill out the fullbacks since Jack isn’t getting any faster, and Harrington was consistently good-not-great and has no backup to speak of. Talk about attacking DPs catches the eye, but I think getting it right at the back is the biggest step forward Portland can take this offseason.

      And yes, that is the short, summarised from memory, version!

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