The long, gruelling road trip is over for the Portland Timbers. After a dozen games away from Providence Park, the defending Western Conference champs can finally return home with a few wins to their name. They also have an exciting new signing making his mark on the tail end of the away swing.
The Timbers lost six of their first seven games of the season, but since picking up their first win in Columbus on April 20, they’ve won five out of seven games and they see their away run end with 14 points overall.
“I think the past 6-7 games, the team just changed gears,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said after Saturday night’s 3-1 win in Philadelphia against the Union. “We have been just facing every team in a different way, the quality has been really good. I think once we go into the field with a good fight, we were able to achieve good things.”
Part of that change in gears, at least on Saturday, came from new designated player Brian Fernandez. He got his first start of the year over the weekend and managed to provide a pair of goals in the first half. He also scored as a substitute in his first appearance of the year a week and a half earlier against the Houston Dynamo. Overall, the Argentinian winger has three goals in just 115 minutes of play to start his MLS career.
He fits in perfectly with a Timbers attack that relies on speed, finesse, and strong positioning. He was in the right place to head home a cross from Andy Polo for the first goal on Saturday. He scored the second goal of the game after springing a counterattack then bolting into the box to collect the final pass for the finish. His movement throughout the match made it look like he was more than just a newcomer to a team that had been struggling early in the year.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Diego Valeri said when asked about playing with Fernandez. “I think he is very happy to be here, and he wants to show that on the field. He’s ready to play games at home, he wants to see our crowd. It’s not easy, but he’s doing his job really well, moving well in the attack, being clinical in those moments. We are trying to get around him well, and get him balls to have more chances.”
Fernandez brought a goal-scoring pedigree with him from Liga MX side Necaxa. He had 12 goals in 15 games during the 2019 Clausura campaign and 11 goals in 12 games for Union La Calera in Chile before moving north to Mexico. Essentially, the 24-year-old scores a ton, and he’s carried that over to his early days in America.
Now he gets the chance to show off those skills in front of a home crowd at Providence Park. The stadium has a shiny new stand and, after a dozen games all around the country, the Timbers will be thrilled to play in front of 20,000+ friendly faces again.
“We’ve been delayed to say anything about it, but now we definitely can talk, because it’s the next game coming,” Savarese said. “We have to look at it with a lot of balance, being calm. It’s exciting, it’s great, we’re content, we can’t wait to be there. But it’s important that we stay focused in what we need to do, stay focused in our plan, and enjoy the moment. It’s been long, but we’re finally going to be able to be back home.”