POR Evander Feature

The Portland Timbers long planned to use a Designated Player spot on an attacking midfielder this winter. They had long identified their top target, even if it seemed a bit of an ambitious profile from the outside.

Brazilian midfielder Evander had excelled for a few years with Danish Superliga club FC Midtjylland, performing consistently in that domestic league, appearing in the UEFA Champions League and then racking up assists in the UEFA Europa League. Entering his prime at 24 years old, players of this profile are sought-after and often move on elsewhere in Europe.

On Monday, after numerous trips to Denmark to scout and hammer out a deal, the Timbers officially announced the acquisition of Evander on a club-record transfer.

“Usually, I’m pretty conservative with my approach,” technical director Ned Grabavoy told MLSsoccer.com said with a laugh. “But yeah you have to, from the beginning, have the mutual understanding of why it’s such a good opportunity and why the moment is right in his career.”

Sources say the deal is around $10 million. He will occupy one of the club’s three Designated Player slots.

“It was huge to have this done,” Grabavoy said. “It’s important for the team to know we have a big, big addition to try and improve the group.”

“It’s a big club in MLS, a club that has a strong team,” Evander said at his introductory presser. “I’m very happy to join.”

A new era

Evander departs Midtjylland as the Europa League's leader in assists this season, ahead of Dutch World Cup breakout star Cody Gakpo, Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen and more. The Brazilian will play as a No. 10 in Portland but has experience a bit deeper in the midfield, as the Timbers opted to pursue a player of that profile rather than a second forward-type.

“We really had a clear idea of what we wanted,” Grabavoy said. “Going through the process, when you start to look at every box we wanted to tick, Evander ticked all of them.”

The Timbers have a new face for their attack after missing the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs last year for the first time since 2016. Portland are working to transition between eras after making two MLS Cup finals (2018 and 2021).

Club legend Diego Valeri moved on after the 2021 season, while talisman Sebastián Blanco turns 35 in March and hasn’t surpassed 2,000 minutes in a season since 2019.

“The biggest goal for us was to really start to get younger, to re-establish part of the core to hopefully keep some of these players together for three to five years and go again,” Grabavoy said.

Evander will slot in as the No. 10, with fellow DPs Blanco and Yimmi Chara, as well as U22 Initiative signing Santiago Moreno and veteran Dairon Asprilla, the main options on either flank. Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Felipe Mora are options at center forward, though the Timbers are looking to add another striker as well.

“When I look at the ages of some of our guys who have proven they can play in MLS, I feel good about having a number of players under contract that can be good-level starting players,” Grabavoy said. “Last year I think we lacked one or two difference-makers. … Hopefully we can find more of that.”

“I have a lot of ambitions and dreams”

Evander was keenly aware of the perception of a player at his age and profile leaving Europe for an MLS team. It’s not the typical path.

MLS has continued to evolve, on the pitch and in the global market. As the quality grows, as more players transfer to Europe, paths are becoming different.

“Of course the expectation from everybody was for me to stay in Europe, but it’s not something that would take me down to go to MLS. It’s something that will make me grow,” Evander said. “MLS is growing. I have a lot of ambitions and dreams. I think I can realize that in MLS with Portland.”

Evander revealed he nearly joined Turkish Süper Lig giants Galatasaray earlier this year before Portland made an offer, but the deal never got over the line. This fall, when the Timbers came calling, Evander didn’t hesitate.

The former Brazil youth international, who came through Vasco da Gama’s youth system, is also keenly aware of potential negative connotations with his move to the United States.

“People can say, ‘Oh, Brazilian players go to MLS just for money.’ I’m going to show the opposite,” Evander said. “I’m going to show in MLS you can grow, you can win good competitions. I’m going to show everybody it’s not about the money or an easy life. I’m going to show MLS is hard work. It’s a big league with big players.”

Evander isn’t the most expensive signing in league history, though he is in the top 10. He’s not the first player in his early prime to leave Europe to head to MLS, either. Cucho Hernández (Columbus Crew), Luiz Araújo (Atlanta United) and Riqui Puig (LA Galaxy) are high-profile examples of that in recent years.

These types of signings have proliferated and are becoming more normalized.

“You will see more acquisitions from MLS clubs from leagues like this or even lower-table teams in the top-five leagues,” Grabavoy said. “As you see other players come and do well in MLS, it’s going to open up the doors to other players. That’s happening now, without question, and it will continue to happen.”