He went there when he was 7, where the priests took care of him, and them. And one day he feels he can tell all about it. But not yet. The home is a part of who Sporting Kansas City’s Gerso Fernandes is, and it was the genesis of his love for soccer.
“I used to live in a house, just with boys whose parents could not take care of them,” said Gerso, as he prefers to go by. “What we used to do all day was play soccer, play soccer, play soccer.”
As time went on, the 26-year-old native of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa went on to play more than 150 matches during a six-year professional career in Portugal – despite a priest from the charity facility where he was living advising him against the dangers of turning professional – before signing with Sporting Kansas City this past January as a Designated Player through 2019 with an option for 2020.
Now, Gerso is bringing a whole new level of love for soccer for the home fans at Children’s Mercy Park who have perhaps longed for more goals and more excitement than in recent seasons. The kind of excitement that those like Preki or Kei Kamara or Krisztian Nemeth used to bring. A rising to the feet when he makes a run – an anticipation – receives the ball and uses his quickness within a slick 1 v 1 move – a gasp of breath – and goes to goal.
Speaking with a soft, slow draw tinged with true happiness and appreciation, the single-and-looking Gerso speaks of how comfortable he is living in Kansas City, and as a corollary, his comfort level on the field.
On Wednesday night against the defending MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders, in a match in which the first half featured no shots on goal for the home side, Gerso electrified the crowd in 13 minutes, inspiring Oohs here, and Ahhs there. A buzz when he neared the ball. The first hat trick by a Sporting player since 2010.
But it was the second goal when Jimmy Medranda made a supreme effort to steal a ball deep in the opponents end, and even more so the third goal, that reveals what Gerso has brought not just for the fans, but his teammates. Six players near the box, all doing what is needed to finish the product.
“When you look at the way we went on the counter and how many guys wanted to run to get on the end of that ball, and Benny [Feilhaber] to have the patience to let [Graham] Zusi’s run develop up the field and then push him through, and Zus not just to serve the ball blindly into the box but to cut it back, and for Gerso to make the run from the left side,” as Head Coach Peter Vermes emphasized after the game. “… It’s the movement of the players, it’s the unselfishness, it’s the running off the ball.”
Fans and players alike are inspired. Zusi (Gerso’s frequent combination partner on the right side) called it a “kind of spark and that energy in the attacking third” referring to new acquisitions Latif Blessing and Gerso.
Another new addition, holding midfielder Ilie Sanchez, who has helped feed Gerso and his five goals on the season, agrees.
“When we have [Gerso] 100%, he brings us a lot of different qualities. First of all, with the ball, he can eliminate opponents with dribbling,” Ilie stated. “That’s good, because when we arrive [in the final third], where we have to make a difference, he can make a difference. We are really happy to have him in the team.”
When Gerso arrived in Kansas City, Vermes knew Fernandes could be a difference-maker for Sporting. After all, designated player contracts are not given to just anyone. But Vermes also knew a change in Gerso’s mentality would be needed. In Portugal, Gerso was a provider, not often the goal scorer.
“I told him he was going to have a different role with us because he’s going to find himself in many more goal scoring opportunities very close to goal … and he has to change his mentality around that because it is not time to always give it to someone else, it’s time to take that responsibility yourself,” Vermes revealed. “He’s been doing that, and he’s been getting more and more comfortable with it. And that’s an important aspect [for us], that we spread the production around by committee, not just focusing on one person.”
Preki. Kei Kamara. Krisztian Nemeth. They scored goals and made those around them better. Exactly what Gerso is doing for Sporting Kansas City and the Dom Dwyers and Zusis and Feilhabers. And the fans. All who have made Kansas City a new home for Gerso.
“Nothing is like Children’s Mercy Park. I love it! I wasn’t used to it in Portugal. The team I used to play with does not have so many supporters. The stadium was always empty,” said Gerso. “But here, it is completely different. I’m doing what I love, and we have a lot of people supporting us. That’s fantastic.”
And the fun and excitement is not going anywhere anytime soon.
“I am loving being here,” said Gerso. “I’m not thinking of leaving. I’ll be here for more years.”