As reported by The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal, the Portland Timbers have signed 24-year-old winger Brian Fernández from Liga MX side Necaxa as a Designated Player. Fernández has tallied 18 goals and 5 assists for Necaxa, including 12 goals since the beginning of the Clausura season in January. His transfer fee, which is somewhere north of Lucas Melano’s previous $5 million club record, was originally rumored to be around $10-12 million.
While Fernández has seen his career stagger due to drug abuse and inconsistency, he has really found his footing on the pitch with Necaxa recently, and is a huge signing for Portland and Major League Soccer.
While Fernández is certainly expected to mature outside of the game, head coach Giovanni Savarese is now tasked with getting the most out of the 24-year-old Argentine within the team.
How might Fernández fit into the squad tactically?
Straight swap for Andrés Flores on the right
Fernández has been playing in this position for Necaxa, and thriving on the offensive side of things. His technical flare gives him the opportunity to legitimately be Portland’s best player as soon as he steps on the pitch.
While Flores has shown promise in the last few matches, Fernández would be an obvious upgrade from a pure talent standpoint. Flores has tended to drop back and absorb pressure in Savarese’s newfound 4-4-2 defensively, though, which Fernández is less inclined to do.
The Timbers also have Jorge Moreira, who has been getting forward from his right back position to send in crosses and assist in buildup along the wing. This has definitely given Portland new opportunities in the final third, and could push Fernández into a more central attacking role.
As a striker
Fernández has actually played the majority of his career at center forward, and although youngster Jeremy Ebobisse leads the squad with four goals in nine matches, it’s clear that Fernández would be an upgrade. Jebo has always struggled to consistently create counter-attacking chances through pace or individual dribbling, as well as finishing—two areas that Fernández excels at.
Diego Valeri has been lining up as a striker lately, looking to drop back and create chances with Jeremy Ebobisse. Valeri’s winner against Real Salt Lake on Saturday is a perfect example of his flexibility as a player. He has played minimally as a winger, but Valeri thrives on dipping into the midfield to link attacking passes and clean up chances.
My personal tactical fantasy would include Valeri assuming more of this midfield role when Fernández joins the squad, evolving the attack into a more dynamic 3-3-1-3 shape with Valeri as the creative linchpin. This would likely condense into a tighter 4-4-2 when defending, with Savarese continuing the high press that has been effective in recent weeks.
A return to the 4-2-3-1?
While the Timbers usually sat back and countered with this formation, this was mainly due to a lack of dangerous attacking players—of which Fernández certainly qualifies.
Of course, the 4-2-3-1 has failed for Portland recently. The main problems with this formation earlier in the season emerged from lack of effort and quality, which have not been issues since moving to the 4-4-2. This signing, along with a recent three-match road win streak, should give Savarese the confidence to move back to the 4-2-3-1 once Fernández is integrated into the squad.
How early could we see him?
Fernández is eligible for Friday’s match at Vancouver after arriving in PDX Monday night. It is unknown whether he will make the trip to Vancouver, but if Portland sees a highly favorable (or unfavorable) scoreline late in the match, there is no reason not to begin fully integrating Fernández into the squad.
Fernández was already making headlines before his transfer for a spitting incident against Monterrey on April 27th. He was handed a three-match suspension and has served a third of it, and is expected to serve the remainder of it with the Timbers.
It is most likely that Fernández gets his debut on the road against Philadelphia on May 25th or in the home opener against LAFC on June 1st. His strong counter-attacking threat could be a perfect solution to the relentless possession of these two opponents.
Regardless of when and how Fernández is finally introduced to the first team, his signing is definitely a landmark in the history of the Portland Timbers organization. Never before has such a prolific, promising goalscorer in a favorable league been signed by the club, and the signing itself—accompanied by Providence Park expansion project—is a positive sign that the Timbers are willing to keep pace in spending with Major League Soccer’s biggest clubs during a crucial period of growth for the league.