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Portland Timbers DP Brian Fernandez enters substance abuse program after mysterious absences

A mysterious “stomach virus” kept Fernandez out of the lineup, but now it appears there was more to the story.

Brian Fernandez’s season with the Timbers appears to be over, regardless of how far Portland makes it through playoffs.

Fernandez has voluntarily entered Major League Soccer’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, the Timbers announced Monday, and he will not return to the field until he is cleared by doctors in the program.

“Our number one priority is Brian’s emotional and physical well-being,” the club said in the statement. “Our thoughts are with him.”

Fernandez spoke to Argentinian newspaper Olé later Monday and said his entrance into the program was to avoid getting in trouble again as he deals with struggles in his life off the field.

“The truth is that I’m going through some bad times in my personal life,” he said. “I asked for help not to fall back on certain things that have happened to me in life. So, in order to not be sanctioned again and all those other things, I spoke to the club and the league. They told me of a place I could go. I told them I would leave right away.”

Fernandez added that he is still being paid and he has not been suspended.

Fernandez arrived to Portland as the most expensive signing in Timbers history, and with a well-known history of substance abuse. He once served a two-year ban from playing soccer in Argentina due to testing positive twice for cocaine. At the time of his transfer from Necaxa in Liga MX — reported to cost the Timbers as much as $10 million — the Timbers front office insisted they had carefully vetted Fernandez.

“I’d much rather know the worst about every single player prior to signing them than find out after the fact,” Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “I think this was a benefit in many ways because it brought out many topics that we were able to talk about. He’s been very honest and open, and he’s owned his past.”

Fernandez’s entrance into the MLS substance abuse program comes on the heels of mysterious on-and-off absences that limited the designated player’s playing time for weeks.

The Timbers first claimed on Sept. 7 that Fernandez was dealing with a “stomach virus” and he started on the bench at home against Sporting Kansas City, coming on late and scoring the game winner. A week later, he did not dress for a game against D.C. United — the Timbers said it was for the same illness, and the team did not have enough players to fill its 18-man bench, although USA Pro Soccer saw Fernandez enter the stadium with his family to watch the game.

By the next week, Fernandez returned to the lineup against Minnesota United, but was pulled off in the 60th minute because he was dizzy, according to Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese.

On Sept. 26, Fernandez was again out of the 18-man game day roster against the New England Revolution, and Pro Soccer USA again saw Fernandez in street clothes at the game. When asked about it after the game, Savarese deflected and said he only wanted to talk about the players who played in the game.

The Timbers signed Fernandez in May, and the Argentine immediately made an impact for his new club. He scored six goals in his first five games in MLS, but his scoring production slowed quickly. He scored in just two of his next 10 games, before running into his recent bout of problems that have kept him off the field.

Fernandez did not feature in the Timbers’ playoff-clinching Decision Day win Sunday over the San Jose Earthquakes because he had earned a red card in the previous match. The Timbers initially said they planned to contest it, but later rescinded their appeal.

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