Q&A: Gastón Fernández excited to bring soccer journey to Portland Timbers

Fernández on coming to MLS, Valeri's "assist", and origin of La Gata nickname

Gastón Fernández with Timbers kit

Photo Credit: 
(Portland Timbers)

New Portland Timbers striker Gastón Fernandéz brings over a decade of experience in the Agentine Primera Division and Mexican Liga MX. He’s played in the Copa Sudamericana tournament and helped lead Estudiantes de la Plata to the 2009 Copa Libertadores championship. But for Fernandéz—nicknamed La Gata in his native Argentina—the Rose City and MLS presented an entirely new challenge.

Led by a gritty drive to succeed, Fernandéz had watched from afar the growth of the league and long targeted the U.S. as a destination for himself and his young family. When Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson and head coach Caleb Porter came calling, he was certainly interested.

But Fernandéz also had questions for what the transition would be like to a new league and country. Who better to ask than Portland’s reigning 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year, Diego Valeri? While both Argentines, the pair did not know each other personally other than by mutual admiration from afar. But as they talked, Valeri made a point to welcome Fernandéz to the Timbers family. That off-field assist in acculturation will surely play into real on-field connections in the seasons to come.

Now settling into his new surroundings, Fernandéz is eager to meet the rest of his teammates, get started on the preseason and push the team forward. After a quick workout in the stadium fitness center and a tour of the new FieldTurf—which he made a point of grabbing a few granules to kiss for luck—he sat down to answer a few questions about his arrival in Portland and his hopes with the Timbers.

How excited are you to come to Portland? How does it feel?
Gastón Fernandéz:  Truthfully, very happy. Above all, I personally like challenges, new objectives, and the possibilities that Portland and the Timbers are giving me to arrive in this country. For me it is very important to be able to triumph and be an important part of the team that made a great run this past season.

Why did you choose to come to MLS at this stage in your career? What are you hoping to accomplish?
GA:  Sincerely, my football wish was at some point in my career to be able to have the possibility to play in MLS and as for the why, perhaps because I see that other important players from Europe have arrived in the league such as Thierry Henry and Marco Di Vaio. They had made the decision to play in this league and so for me it also became a wish. I didn’t know that it was going to happen so quickly but when I had the possibility to come to MLS with the Timbers, it was a great opportunity. We are able to win now. This is always something a player looks for to leave your mark.

What led you to Portland specifically? How did you decide to come here?
GA:  I had a conversation with Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter in Argentina. It was a great conversation, very satisfactory above all because we didn’t just talk about the football side of the business but also the human side. Like how to be a player and a person—to try be a part of the roster who contribute things on and off the field. I felt great about that conversation and afterwards, I waited for them to make a decision.

I had the opportunity to speak with Diego Valeri too, which is great with us being both Argentines. We didn’t know each other before but Diego shared a lot with me. First, I am grateful to him for having said such nice things about me and for helping answer any doubts that I had regarding the city and the club. He did a lot of things for me without having known me personally and for me, that was very significant. I am very grateful to him.

Portland is known for a very active and exciting matchday crowd. Have you seen the Timbers play on TV? How familiar have you become with the Timbers Army?
GA:  Yes, from the moment that there was a possibility of me playing for the Timbers, due to curiosity, I began to check it out on the internet. I was able to watch highlights of the Timbers’ past seasons and see the enthusiasm that the fans bring to the team. They had a great season last year and they have a way in which they play, a manner in which they work, a clear idea and so I will need to be able to adapt myself as quickly as possible to the team that is already well shaped.

I know you have a young family with a son and newborn daughter. How important was it for your family to come to Portland and feel comfortable?
GA:  For me, it is very important. When I knew it was a possibility, I spoke with my wife and I have a 6-year old son who even though he is young, we talked about these things. They are very happy to be able to live this experience knowing that for me, it is important and was a dream of mine. They are coming here in the same way, to get to know the country, which is important for us along with the culture, the language, and to be able to grow and learn. My wife already knows how to speak English so for my kids and I, it is a beautiful opportunity to be able to learn the language and culture.

With the season fast approaching and a host of new players to meet and get to know, what are you most looking forward to this year?
GA:  From my position on the field, I think it will be important to adapt myself as quickly as possibly to my teammates, the coaching staff, what is significant to the club and also the city. I come with the intention to give the very best of myself, to be able to perform well, and to win. I hope to have a great season.

In Argentina, you acquired the a well-known nickname, “La Gata.” What’s the story behind that?
GA:  When I was young, my first coach had a son with the same name as me, Gastón. He had light eyes as well and he was a lot bigger than me so the coach called me La Gata. La Gata has remained my nickname ever since.