KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It didn't take Gerso Fernandes long to figure out that MLS features a far different style of play than what he'd grown used to in Portugal.
“The first [preseason] game against San Jose was when I realized that they're stronger,” the 26-year-old winger told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday, two days ahead of Sporting Kansas City's season opener at D.C. United (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE). “It's more physical than Portugal but I'm ready for it.”
For a slightly-built player – Fernandes is 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds – that could be a concern. But the new Designated Player, acquired this past offseason from Os Belenenses of Portugal's Primeira Liga, has a plan, one that doesn't involve bulking up in Sporting's weight room.
“I have to be more fast than the other guys. That's how I have to do it,” he said. “I think I prefer to stay with my speed and that will help me, because if I get too heavy I will lose my velocity and it will be more difficult for me.”
Fernandes' acquisition was a key move in Sporting's offseason strategy to get younger and faster on the flanks while retaining a veteran core down the middle of the pitch. He has been more of a service provider than a finisher over six years in Portugal, but manager Peter Vermes expects players on his front line to have a go when the opportunity arises, to keep defenses from keying on center forward Dom Dwyer.
Fernandes, who scored a career-high six goals across all competitions for Moreirense during a loan spell in 2014-2015, said he's up to the challenge – and already developing a solid relationship with Dwyer and Sporting's other attacking players.
“It's going good. It's going good,” he said. “We're starting understanding each other and making it more easy for me and for them too.
“If I can score, I will score. But if I can make the assist, I will make the assist too. I will look for both.”
Sporting first made a run at Fernandes last year, but he elected to stay in Portugal and move from Estoril to Belenenses during the summer transfer window.
“I thought it was too soon to come,” he said. “So I waited one more year, playing in Portugal, and they came back again. They said they wanted me here, so the second time I accepted the offer to come here because they made a great offer and they told me that I could have everything I need to work and to be a good player here.”
Fernandes hadn't heard much about MLS while playing in the Primeira Liga, and that's why he wanted to stay there longer. What he found after accepting Sporting's offer surprised him.
“I've changed my mind,” he said. “Before, when I was in Portugal, I didn't think that it was so competitive. In MLS, you have good players. In Portugal, they didn't say that because they didn't know. It's not something they talk about.
“This is different from what I was expecting, in a good way.”