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Portland Timbers sign Brian Fernandez as Designated Player in big boost for attack

Owner Merritt Paulson has spent a record amount for the Timbers’ newest Designated Player.

Owner Merritt Paulson has spent a record amount for the Timbers' newest Designated Player. (Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Timbers’ long-rumored, long-awaited Designated Player is finally here.

Argentine forward Brian Fernandez, 24, will join the Timbers from Liga MX club Necaxa and fill the club’s last DP slot, the Timbers announced Monday.

The move should instantly strengthen a Timbers attack that has found limited production from its right side — Fernandez is primarily a right winger, although he can play as the striker and on the other wing as well. Andy Polo has mainly been the Timbers’ starting right winger, but last season he scored just one goal in 23 appearances.

Instead, the goal-scoring load on the Timbers has been handled by the club’s other two DPs — last year, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco accounted for the vast majority of the Timbers goals. Although Jeremy Ebobisse has stepped up his game and he now exceeds his 2018 goal total with four goals in nine games this season, the Timbers have still been eager to boost an attack that relied too much on Valeri and Blanco last year.

“Brian is a player who possesses many different attacking qualities that can cause issues for the opposition,” coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement. “He has shown the ability to unlock defenses and score goals in a variety of ways throughout his career, and, while we view him as a forward with our immediate group, his versatility and ability to play in different positions and systems gives us further tactical flexibility and options.”

Fernandez has 18 goals in 32 appearances for Necaxa, 25 of them starts. He finished second overall in scoring for the Liga MX Clausura regular season with 12 goals in 15 appearances. Prior to joining Necaxa, he had stints with Racing Club, as well as Defensa y Justicia, both in Argentina.

It is unclear if Fernandez will be available right away because he was serving a three-game suspension in Liga MX for spitting at a fan after an incident last week. The Timbers are awaiting clarification on whether his suspension must carry over to MLS play.

While the transfer fee to acquire Fernandez has not been disclosed, the Timbers did say it was large enough to trigger a release clause in his contract with Necaxa. The Timbers’ general manager, Gavin Wilkinson, said before the season started that owner Merritt Paulson was prepared to set a club spending record on the new player, and reports have put the transfer fee at around $10 million.

The Timber’s DP slot opened up when the Timbers bought down Lucas Melano’s contract last year.

“We are delighted to sign a player of Brian Fernández’ caliber, at a stage in his career where we feel he is already a proven player yet still has his best years in front of him and room to grow as a player,” Wilkinson said in a statement. “Brian has demonstrated the ability to overcome adversity during his career and his commitment to the game, his family and his belief in his ability has helped him develop into an exciting, highly skilled attacking threat with very good clubs in multiple leagues.”

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