Mon, May


Cyd Gray (Ma Pau) tries to contain Kerry Baptiste (Joe Public).In his home country of Trinidad, Kerry Baptiste is a sports hero. Not only has he broken goal scoring records, he's also been named the country's "Sports Personality of the year."

Numbers like 48 goals in a season, and 67 goals in 87 total appearances for a club, will lead to that sort of thing. So will scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw against Mexico in Concacaf qualifiers.

But it's still the Trinidadian league. So would Baptise be a good bet for TFC? A little intuition and a look at his career suggests it would.

Baptiste moved to perennial T&T League Powerhouse Joe Public four years ago, at age 25, after several years as a creative midfielder for San Juan Jabloteh, a typically financially stretched Caribbean club that has nevertheless produced several fine footballers in recent years.

At the time, former English International Terry Fenwick — in his own more famous days not noted for the best of judgment — decided Baptiste should be allowed to leave the club on a free transfer.

Though he was already a full international, Jabloteh let him go for a player-to-be-named later, and Fenwick said it made sense because he had younger midfielders coming up.

And even at that point, it wasn't like Joe Public knew Jabloteh was being effectively fleeced: the club signed him to be a midfielder, as he'd always been.

But here's the thing: Baptiste had been a prolific goalscorer from midfield since his teens, and had already shown as well that he could play both wide and inside because of his dribbling skills. He's also tall and strong.

Why he wasn't tried at striker earlier is mystifying. The Lions eventually realized Baptiste demonstrates the right skill set and that the modern trend is towards guys who could be target men, but still have ball skills and dexterity. They moved him up top two years ago.

He hasn't stopped scoring since.

At 28 he has considerable professional experience. His league is middling-to-poor at best, but its clubs have often performed admirably against MLS sides in the Concacaf Champions League.

And with just two seasons under his belt as a striker, Baptiste — also a handful to mark in the box and good with his head — is now the league's leading all-time scorer.

Will that transfer over in full to Major League Soccer, if Baptiste signs on with TFC during the next window?

Probably not in full. Professional leagues in small nations are rife with guys who can achieve great things on technique alone, but fail to keep up to the tactical pace of better leagues. There are about 200 African labourers in France and Belgium alone, unfortunately, who can attest to that.

But Baptiste has also performed admirably in internationals and MLS is not Europe. His recent two-goal outing against Mexico saw him score one from the spot and one with his head, but also force a couple of saves and create a couple of other opportunities, with strength and deft movement.

These are qualities TFC does not have in abundance. Baptiste can easily keep up with Chad Barrett in the ball handling department, and is better at creating space and infinitely better at hitting the target. He also has something to prove, given that teams outside of Trinidad have been looking at him seriously now for two years without taking the leap.

If he's willing to come in for reasonable MLS money — something in the $100,000 to $150,000 range, with bonus potential — embattled Football Director Mo Johnston would have little reason not to take the plunge.

Two years of success in MLS might land him a DP deal, and the chance to spend the latter part of his career as a club hero on a larger stage, in front of 21,000 per game, for better pay. It certainly worked for Luciano Emilio.

If he's worried about service, he'll have De Rosario and De Guzman providing, and Barrett — underrated for his ethic and movement, even when his finishing has been down — to partner with.

For TFC, it's not that much of a gamble. For Baptiste? He may think fighting for a roster spot at Ipswich is his shot at greatness — but the first time he scores a brace in front of that riotous assembly at BMO, he'd know he was right at home.