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Brian Fernandez’ Portland Timbers contract terminated by MLS after substance abuse problems

The Timbers announced the departure of their most expensive DP with a one-sentence press release.

Brian Fernandez, the designated player the Portland Timbers spent a record amount to sign, has been terminated.

The club announced his exit Friday in a one-sentence press release: “Major League Soccer has terminated the contract for Brian Fernandez and the player has been removed from the Timbers roster.” The news comes just weeks after he entered the MLS substance abuse program following a known history of drug abuse.

Fernandez told media in Argentina that he asked the Timbers and MLS for help before voluntarily entering the program, and he implied it was a step to avoid getting himself into trouble. But sources hint at a more dire picture where Fernandez’s problems had been ongoing long before he entered the substance abuse program and he displayed unprofessional behavior, like missing training sessions.

The Timbers claimed publicly for weeks that 25-year-old Fernandez had a “stomach virus” as the Argentine was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup up until he entered the substance abuse program on Oct. 7.

The MLS collective bargaining agreement states that the MLS commissioner may terminate a player “at any time without further obligation” if the player “is subjected to any penalties for testing positive for a banned substance, for noncompliance, or for refusal to submit to a drug test.”

While Fernandez’s exit from Portland after less than a year is an abrupt end to an acquisition the Timbers hoped would be a long-term solution at the striker position, it’s not exactly surprising. Fernandez had previously been caught twice using cocaine and served suspensions, missing nearly two years on the field over positive drug tests.

When the Timbers announced they acquired Fernandez from Necaxa in Liga MX, he was in the middle of serving a three-game ban for getting into an argument and spitting at a fan. At the time, the Timbers insisted they carefully vetted him and didn’t think his past problems would affect his performance in Portland.

“I’d much rather know the worst about every single player prior to signing them than find out after the fact,” 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.”

With Fernandez’s designated player spot now opened up, that could change the contentious ongoing negotiations with club legend Diego Valeri. The Timbers have sought to reduce Valeri’s salary to below the designated player threshold to free up a DP slot, but 33-year-old Valeri is pushing to continue on a DP contract, sources have told Pro Soccer USA.

Previously, club owner Merritt Paulson said the team would be going after several attacking players, including a striker, whether or not Fernandez remained at the club, and a winger who can play on the right side. The club will also look to add a central midfielder, he said.

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