What can the Portland Timbers expect from record signing Brian Fernandez?

In January, the Portland Timbers decision-makers sat down to map out how to improve the squad that just lost 2018 MLS Cup final to Atlanta United. They came to a conclusion: A big-money forward.

Four months later, after myriad reports, rumors and significant financial backing from ownership, the Timbers officially got their man, signing Brian Fernandez from Liga MX side Necaxa for a club-record fee, reported to be in the range of $10-12 million. 

How did the Timbers settle on Fernandez in the wide, wide world of soccer?

“We had identified several characteristics that we needed within the player, what they needed to bring us as an individual," Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said on a media conference call on Monday. "Some of those things were athleticism and the player’s ability to play numerous positions. That eliminates a lot of quality players but it identifies the ones you start to target.”

Now that Fernandez is officially a Timbers player, and he traveled to the US on Monday when the deal went official, what the Timbers can expect goals, pace, versatility and a fierce competitor from one of the most expensive signings in MLS history.

“He’s a player that’s constantly trying to unbalance defenders and is a player that finds the goal often," head coach Gio Savarese said. "He can play in different positions up top which is very important for us. It’s a player that brings a lot of energy, a quality player, everywhere he’s been he’s done well. Most important part is that he’s a competitor.”

Versatility is a word Savarese and Wilkinson used often. 

Fernandez played center forward at most of his career stops, though thrived predominantly at right wing for Necaxa, where the 24-year-old had 18 goals and five assists in 32 matches. He helped lead Necaxa to the Liga MX Apertura playoffs and he was the second-leading scorer in the league.

In Portland, he'll join an already star-studded attack boasting the likes of Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse

“He’s a player that immediately makes us better," Wilkinson said. "Without putting pressure on Gio, I look at it as he’s gone to several different leagues and performed."

Fernandez doesn't come without a bit of controversy, though.

In 2015, when he was 20-years-old, he failed a drug test and received a two-year ban. At the end of April, in what turned out to be his last match for Necaxa, Fernandez received his first career red card. As he was exited the field, a fan was verbally abusing him. Fernandez spat in his direction and the fan threw a cup at him, which he threw back.

The Timbers aren't concerned. In fact, the incidents opened the door for enough meaningful conversations that the club have no worries over his character. Wilkinson also indicated that Fernandez spat at the wall, not at the fan. 

“In some ways, it allowed him to grow and mature," Wilkinson said of the drug suspension. "He’s owned it. He made a bad decision, he stepped up and has taken responsibility for his actions. He talks about it honestly and openly. I’d much rather know what I’m getting into rather than find out after the fact.” 

Wilkinson also added that the club are still "waiting for clarity" on if any suspension from the Mexico Federation in response to his altercation with the fan will carry over to MLS. Any potential suspension did not impact the transfer taking place, despite Necaxa being in the playoffs. 

“It was all done under the premise that we would have this player prior to the close of the Primary Transfer Window. …The timing for them wasn’t ideal, but it was the only way this deal was going to get done," Wilkinson said. "That was made clear from the start.”

The Timbers got the deal over the line a day beforethe closes on Tuesday. Now, their roster is done being renovated just in time for their home opener on June 1 after Providence Park underwent construction. 

“There was a lot of urgency to bring him in. … We’ve added 4,000 seats to the stadium—there’s more fans that we have to entertain," Wilkinson said. "We wanted to make sure the team is best position that we continue to represent the city the way it should be represented and put us in the best possible position to climb up the table.”