Fernandes Adapting to Life as a Professional During COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by: Owen Boyle

Photo by: Matt Ralph

It’s the 63rd minute and Lukas Fernandes is being subbed on for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a game very close to where he played his college soccer. The former Temple standout and current Pittsburgh Riverhounds forward was just a short trip up I-95 from his old stomping grounds on North Broad. 

On July 18th, Fernandes and his teammates made the trip across the state of Pennsylvania to play a USL Championship match against the Philadelphia Union II. Union II, the minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Union, hosted the match at Subaru Park in Chester.

Fernandes was coming off his professional debut against Louisville City the previous weekend. This match marked one of the first USL games since March 11th after the league suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to joining the Riverhounds, Fernandes starred in his senior season for the Temple Owls. He led the team with 11 total points, scoring three goals and notching five assists. Fernandes started 34 of 55 total games in his four-year tenure with the cherry and white. He collected 29 career points with 10 goals and 9 assists.

“He has been a key player and a leader for us and has all the tools to succeed as a professional player,” said Temple head coach Brian Rowland at the end of the Owl’s season..

Temple finished their season with a .500 record overall and went 3-2-2 in American Athletic Conference play. Fernandes was happy to see the success his team had during his senior season.

“We were putting pressure on the big dogs last year and it can only get better from here,” said Fernandes in an interview last week.

Temple made a run to the conference semifinals where they fell short to the tournament hosts, UCF. The Owls will look to build on that success whenever the 2020 AAC soccer campaign kicks off. 

“It’s on the up and they’re [Temple] going to keep going up for quite a bit. They have some bright young players from last year who I think are going to make a big jump. I’m very excited for the guys, coach Rowland, and the entire staff, they are definitely going in the right direction.”

Just a week after his senior season, Fernandes was recommended by coach Rowland to participate in a two-day trial with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Former Temple goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre was also invited to go along. Lefebrve was drafted by DC United of the MLS in this year’s draft and he currently plays for their USL side Loudoun United.

During the two-day trial, Fernandes worked as hard as he could to make a good impression with the coaching staff. 

“The one thing on my mind was work as hard as I possibly can to put my name on the map,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes wasn’t expecting to make the team, but five days later Riverhounds coach Bob Lilley called with a contract offer. Fernandes signed a one-year contract with Pittsburgh, he was also given a club option for the 2021 season.

Fernandes trained with the team during the early months of 2020, but did not feature for the team prior to the USL shutdown. Fernandes made his pro debut on July 12, coming on as a sub in the games final minute.

In the match against Union II, Fernades was subbed on much earlier due to the 3-0 advantage that Pittsburgh held. Just four minutes after entering the match, Lukas Fernandes tapped in a loose ball to score his first professional goal. 

“It was a big relief to score my professional goal and the fact that it happened so close to Temple made it even better.”

With no fans in the seats, Fernandes celebrated his first tally with his Riverhound teammates who were warming up on the endline where the goal was scored.

“I’ve got a great group of guys here who have been helping me throughout the way, they keep me motivated and help me continue in the right direction.”

Fernandes almost added an assist to his stellar performance, but striker Steevan dos Santos skied a close range opportunity off a Fernandes cross. 

Just two appearances into his career, Fernandes has experienced the highs and lows of adapting to professional soccer. Fernades is going from a captain and starter at Temple to being a young role player on one of the USL’s best teams. 

“The transition has been different, but it’s something I am accepting. This is part of my growth as a player and as a professional. Everyone was a rookie before, this is just part of the learning curve.”

The suspension of play was difficult for Fernandes, being a younger player with hopes of continuously improving his game and impressing his coaching staff. The five-month break didn’t help, but Fernades’ most recent performances speaks volumes to the improvement that the Rochester, New York native has made. 

While Fernandes just began his professional career, he is already setting big goals and looking ahead to his future.

I want to continue to grow, develop, and improve as a player. I hope that maybe one day I can play in Major League Soccer or even somewhere overseas.”

With continued success adapting to the professional game, the former Temple Owl is poised to reach his goals and accomplish great things as a professional soccer player.

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