It’s a resumé of which Andrew Jean-Baptiste is extremely proud – from achievements like playing for his national team, to being an MLS first-round draft pick and taking his skills to Europe and beyond. And all those miles – the different teams, the trades, the places he’s seen – have definitely helped feed the adventurer in him. Yet, the 28-year-old center-back seems content now at this stage of his career to settle in with Valour FC and continue playing the role of dominant defender/veteran leader on the Canadian Premier League squad. That contentment, you see, is critical to him now more than ever. "I’ve got to that point in my career where, yeah, I could keep on jumping from team to team," Jean-Baptiste told CanPL.ca "To be fair, I could have left at the end of this past season. "But there’s something about it when it just feels right. There’s no need to chase fame, money or some superficial, materialistic item or goal. It’s better to look for happiness and comfort and that’s what I felt with Valour and the staff. That, for me, made such a big impact on my decision, even more than the potential financial gain. "I appreciate my happiness and my comfort. That’s why I’m at Valour."
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And what a long and winding road travelled for the product of Brentwood, New York to now find himself in Winnipeg. Born in Brooklyn to Haitian immigrants, the family settled in Brentwood on Long Island where he was born and raised and still lives today in the off-season. His family is all about the game – his mother Violette Love is president of the Brentwood Youth Soccer Club and a coach of one of the club teams. Ditto his father Love Smith and his brother Randy Jean-Baptiste. "It’s in our blood," Jean-Baptiste said. "They are full-time into the soccer club and I don’t think there’s any place they would rather be right now. It made my decision when I was younger picking between sports, a little bit easier, knowing that my family was so heavily into soccer." A high school star – he was the Long Island player of the year – Jean-Baptiste then played his college ball at the University of Connecticut and was the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year. That led to him being selected in the first round, eighth overall, by the Portland Timbers in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft and thus began his professional career. He scored in his first match for the Timbers in 2012 before being loaned to the Los Angeles Blues in the USL so he could secure more playing time. He became a starter in Portland in 2013, but two weeks before Christmas was traded to Chivas USA, where injuries limited him to just 10 games in 2014. Jean-Baptiste signed with the New York Red Bulls in 2015, and was loaned to their affiliate before his release. That’s when the European chapter of his adventure began. He spent over a year trying to get a work permit in Spain, but built up enough of a network that he then landed in Sweden, spending 2016-17 with Nykopings, 2018 with Terengganu II and 2019 with Umea FC. During this time he also made appearances with the Haitian national team, scoring goals in 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup qualifiers against Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. "I’m glad to represent the country my parents are from and where those colours to make my extended family proud," he said. "It doesn’t get any better than that." There was considerable interest in Jean-Baptiste leading up to the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season, in 2019. He chose to wait, watching the league put down roots from afar. "I wanted to wait until after the first year to see how the CPL would turn out," he said. "And what I saw looked great. Coming into Valour I could see the structure. It’s something I missed after jumping around from different teams and different countries. You learn there is a standard. Being in an environment where you are taken care of is something I wanted again. Plus, with the years adding up on me… there’s an – I don’t want to say an ‘obsession’ with young players, but every team wants young players. "It’s funny… when I first started playing I kept getting benched for experience. Then somewhere along the line they went for the young guys. And now with Valour they value my veteran experience." There’s something to that, too. It’s important to be valued, to have your voice respected as much as your play. And to enjoy those around you, both on and off the pitch. The 2020 CPL season – The Island Games – was just a short seven-game run for Valour FC. But Jean-Baptiste saw enough of the organization, and the city he called home for months before and during the pandemic before heading to PEI for the CPL tournament that he wants to settle in for more. Yes, this soccer nomad wants the next chapter to be in Winnipeg gain with Valour. "I was comfortable where I was living. I was comfortable with the people in town, with the staff, with my teammates… that’s not the on-the-field part," he said. "The league is one thing and from the small taste of it I got. The league is open to hearing things from coaches and players as to how things should be run and I want to be a part of that and see it grow. "I’m just naturally optimistic. I’m an outgoing, cheerful person. I am happy. I am fully content with where things are, not just with me and how I see my career going, but with this upcoming season. I can’t wait to get it started."