Less than seven months after he arrived in Portland, Brian Fernandez’s time with the Timbers has come to an abrupt end.
On Friday afternoon, the Timbers announced the Major League Soccer has terminated Fernandez’s contract with immediate effect for failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health (SABH) program.
According to The Athletic‘s Paul Tenorio, this is the first time that MLS has ever terminated the contract of a player for violating the SABH.
Tenorio has also reported that MLS will be suing Fernandez’s previous club, Necaxa of Mexico’s Liga MX, and that the MLS Players’ Association will be filing a grievance on Fernandez’s behalf.
It’s a terribly sad turn of events for a young player with a history of substance abuse, and, it seems, the beginning of a long and potentially ugly legal process.
That history of substance abuse dates at least back to 2015, when Fernandez failed multiple drug tests — including one for cocaine — while playing for Racing Club in his native Argentina and was suspended from professional soccer for a year-and-a-half.
Fernandez moved abroad to go through a rehabilitation process and restart his career, which he did with great success during stops in Chile and Mexico, but his past drug use was a central concern of the Timbers’ when deciding whether to sign him for a club record transfer fee this spring.
The Timbers ultimately decided to bring him aboard — though the did include certain behavioral clauses in their transfer agreement with Necaxa, and may now stand recoup a portion of what they paid in that transaction.
It’s a dizzying fall for Fernandez, who, after arriving in May, made a record-breaking start to life in MLS — scoring five goals in his first four league games and eight goals in his first nine, including a brace in a 2-1 win at CenturyLink Field over the Seattle Sounders.
But after that torrid start, Fernandez’s production dried up. He’d score just three more times the rest of the season, and missed time in September for what was termed a “stomach virus” as rumors swirled about his personal and professional conduct.
He eventually returned to the lineup, but was sent off in the penultimate game of the regular season at Sporting Kansas City and voluntarily himself checked into the SABH just eight days later — missing the club’s playoff loss to Real Salt Lake.
Fernandez returned to Portland after being cleared by doctors to resume working out at the end of October, and all signs pointed to his returning to the club next year.
Now, though, that won’t happen. It’s a competitive and psychological blow for the Timbers, who may well be down to one returning DP, and an unprecedented situation for both the club and MLS.
For Fernandez, all attention now must turn to his health. Here’s hoping he can get well.