Just a few weeks removed from Valour’s Island Games departure, Jean-Baptiste would’ve been forgiven for taking the time to weigh his options. The Haitian international defender had been a rock at the back for Rob Gale’s new-look side, and although the club didn’t advance past the first round, their defensive performance through seven games earned heaps of well-deserved credit.
Valour conceded the most goals in the CPL in 2019 by a considerable margin, and they were the only club to allow more than two expected goals against per game (2.09). In 2020, they shaved that expected goals against number down to 1.22 per game, good for fourth in the league. The success was primarily down to the fully-revamped back line, featuring Jean-Baptiste and Julian Dunn anchoring the defence together.
It was real, impressive progress.
How quickly all that progress could’ve fallen apart, though. Julian Dunn was at the club on loan this year from Toronto FC, and goalkeeper James Pantemis was on loan from the Montreal Impact. Who knows what the future holds for veteran fullback Arnold Bouka-Moutou, as well? Gale was honest about the situation last month, admitting that it’d be difficult to keep the core together in a salary cap league.
Nonetheless, Valour now has a defender to build around. Jean-Baptiste’s eager return should allay most fears of the club taking a step backwards in 2021, regardless of how the team around him might change.
Jean-Baptiste’s presence was, perhaps more than anything, the most encouraging thing about Valour in 2020; his defensive partner Dunn rightly grabbed the spotlight, with the more impressive tackle and aerial numbers, but the youngster had a lot more freedom to close down attackers knowing that Jean-Baptiste could cover for him impeccably.
The 28-year-old’s discipline and poise in defending was what set him apart from Valour’s defensive group of 2019. He committed just five fouls in the defensive third and wasn’t booked once; he was, technically, at fault for conceding a penalty kick to Cavalry FC, although the handball was an unfortunate break for him.
Jean-Baptiste also wasn’t dispossessed once through seven matches. The only times an opposing player managed to get the ball from him was when he lofted long passes up the field to clear danger.
Here’s Jean-Baptiste’s body of work from arguably Valour’s best game in PEI, their 4-0 win over Atlético Ottawa. He was active winning the ball in the left half-space and penalty area, and he was very keen to move passes forward (13 of them, to be exact) to left-back Brett Levis.
Gale confirmed last month that he’d fielded calls from other clubs on Jean-Baptiste, and he affirmed that he wouldn’t stand in the way if the defender had an opportunity to return to a higher level.
To Jean-Baptiste’s credit, however, he opted to remain in Winnipeg and continue with a project that he’s done a great deal to advance. He explained how nice it might be to become a fixture at a club that wants him, after bouncing around the U.S. and Scandinavia for years.
Somehow, Valour FC seem to have turned the Haitian-American into an adopted Winnipegger — just as they did with José Galán. The same appears to be true of other veteran players — both international and from elsewhere in Canada — from Daryl Fordyce to Fraser Aird, and in between.
It is, apparently, by design.
With Jean-Baptiste in place for the future, Valour have made a statement of intent. They will not allow the defensive progress made in 2020 to evaporate.