It’s been quite a year for Alvaro Fernandez.
First the 24-year-old Uruguayan midfielder learned that his girlfriend was pregnant with the couple’s first child. Then, after being capped just seven times, he was named to Uruguay's World Cup team. While in South Africa, he started for Uruguay in a quarterfinal victory over Ghana, surprisingly sending the two-time World Cup champs to the semifinal.
However, the semifinal appearance also assured that Fernandez would be scheduled to play on the weekend of July 10 – the same weekend he had planned to marry his girlfriend.
Add to that the news that he was receiving interest from the Seattle Sounders FC in Major League Soccer and Fernandez was on cloud nine.
Fernandez and Uruguay went on to finish fourth in the tournament after consecutive losses to Holland and Germany, and in the last week he has been married and flew to America to join his new team as the Sounders FC’s third Designated Player. He watched as Seattle topped Isidro Metapan 1-0 in the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday, then joined the team for their first day of training on Thursday.
“I am very impressed by the team. I am very impressed by the sports complex that we have here,” Fernandez said. “I was very impressed by the fans last night and the stadium.”
At 6’1” and 159 pounds, the gangly midfielder earned the nickname “El Flaco” in Uruguay, meaning “The Thin One.” Fernandez joins midfielder Freddie Ljungberg and forward Blaise Nkufo as the Sounders FC’s three designated players.
Fernandez plays primarily on the right side, but can also play on the left or as an attacking central midfielder. Known most for his crossing ability, he is also capable of rushing the goal himself, scoring three goals in nine matches for Nacional in 2009.
He began his pro career in 2006 in his native Uruguay with Atenas and Montevideo Wanderers before his career took stride in 2008 with a move to the Mexican club Puebla. There, he began to establish his game while catching the attention of the Uruguay National Team.
After a short, but successful stint with Puebla, he returned home to play for Nacional and flourished, making his international debut in April of 2009 in a critical World Cup qualifier against Chile. That success prompted a loan deal with Vitoria Setubal in Portugal and another loan with Universidad in Chile.
In that time, he caught the eyes of the Sounders FC scouting staff and owner/GM Adrian Hanauer has been aware of him ever since.
“We have been tracking Alvaro for a while,” Hanauer said. “Versatility, quality, character, a lot of the same attributes that we have been interested in all along attracted us to him. Alvaro is a player who has a very good pace. He is good in the air. He can play anywhere across the midfield. Again, we just felt like another quality player was necessary to continue to build on what we have got and certainly to make a run for the playoffs.”
Now with the team, he is awaiting his International Transfer Certificate before he can play with the team. However, that doesn’t dampen the excitement toward adding a young, talented player to head coach Sigi Schmid’s stable.
“Obviously we are very pleased to have him here,” Schmid said. “He is young. He is a guy who his best soccer is still ahead of him, which is always nice when you can bring players like that into the league. He is also a player who can play on the flank. He can play pretty much anywhere in midfield. He is pretty much a two-way guy. He’s got good pace and I think he will adjust to the league quickly.”
His youth is one of his most valuable assets. In a league where the typical designated player has tended to be tracking toward the end of their career, Fernandez’s signing shows another option for the designated player slot – a young player who can grow in the league and prove valuable in the long-term. For Hanauer and the Sounders FC, that was part of the thinking in signing Fernandez.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into that and strategically, we like the idea,” said Hanauer. “It has to be the right fit, but bringing in younger players – whether that means for many, many years or the players value increases and we sell the player back out of the league and get allocation money or additional cash to fund other parts of our soccer operations. It is a bit of a departure, but it’s something we’ve thought a lot about and feel very good about.”
Schmid echoed that sentiment, saying that the league can be a breeding ground for young international talent who eventually want an opportunity to play in Europe.
“I think if we can show ourselves to be a viable league to bring in players like that and they are going to continue to grow and continue to develop. Obviously if he does well then one day he might move on but then that opens up the door for the next guy to do the same thing,” Schmid said. “I just think when you get players at that age and at that level it just shows that you are a more viable league, that you are higher up in that pecking order across the world.”
The Sounders FC travel to face the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, then to El Salvador for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League series with Isidro Metapan on Tuesday. Fernandez may be eligible to play as soon as Saturday, though the Sounders will have to create roster space for him before officially adding him to the roster.