Over the last five years, Giovanni Savarese helped to build a winning club from the ground up as he led the New York Cosmos to an incredible three championships in the North American Soccer League.
Now, he is eager to take on a new challenge with the Portland Timbers in Major League Soccer.
“I think this was the right time for me to make this transition to Major League Soccer and I couldn’t have found a better club,” said Savarese, who was formally introduced as the Timbers head coach at a press conference at Providence Park on Monday. “I felt it was the perfect fit for me.”
The Timbers embarked on an extensive coaching search last fall after Caleb Porter unexpectedly made the decision to step down following five strong seasons in Portland. In December, the Timbers announced that Savarese would succeed Porter.
A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Savarese spent 18 years playing professional soccer in various leagues around the world, including five years in Major League Soccer. Following his playing career, he served as the head of youth development for the New York Red Bulls from 2005-07 and the academy director for the Cosmos in 2010 before taking on his first head coaching role with the Cosmos in 2013.
During his five years in New York, Savarese led his club to a 65-26-44 record and made a name for himself as a passionate and savvy coach in the North American Soccer League, becoming beloved by fans, players and colleagues alike.
“In this ultra-competitive, cut-throat world of pro soccer, it’s pretty rare when you talk to former players and owners and you get nothing but positives about someone,” Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said. “That’s the case with this guy. It really is. He’s a special individual. He has a quiet confidence and charisma that’s rare, not just in soccer, but in this world.”
Paulson and Timbers General Manager and President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson said that they were immediately impressed during the interview process by Savarese’s personality, as well as his vision for the club and on-field philosophy. They also felt his ability to speak four languages would make him well-suited to lead Portland’s international roster.
“For those that have seen my teams play, you know as I coach I like to be the dominant team on the field, to be the team that has the ball, that controls the flow of the game, that’s offensive-minded,” Savarese said. “(We’re going to be) a team that not only is going to try to win games, but is going to try to play a brand of soccer that fans can enjoy.”
While Savarese has yet to coach at the MLS level, he said his knowledge of the league both as a former player and as someone who has covered MLS as an analyst for ESPN would ease his transition.
“I know the league very well and Portland has done things the right way,” Savarese said “If there’s something at some point that needs to be helped with, I know I have the right support in this club to be able to make sure that this transition is made the best possible way.”
Whereas Savarese served as both the sporting director and head coach at the Cosmos and had full autonomy to build his roster in New York, the 46-year-old is inheriting a Timbers team that is already mostly in place and he will have to work alongside Wilkinson to bring new players to Portland.
But Savarese said that he is happy to share that responsibility with Wilkinson.
“It’s better to have two people,” Savarese said. “It’s been great from the beginning. (Gavin and I) have the same mentality. We see things the same way. I think it’s going to be a very good situation to be able to contribute to the great job Gavin has done so far.”
Ideally, the Timbers would have liked to have their head coach in place earlier in the offseason, but Porter’s unexpected departure left the club with limited time to hold a coaching search.
Savarese didn’t officially join the club until mid-December and did not arrive in Portland until last week. So far, Savarese has only had time to speak with a few of the players on the roster, including Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Fanendo Adi.
He also did not play a major role in the club’s massive decision to trade fan-favorite Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United. Savarese said he had a chance to speak to Nagbe over the phone, but the deal was already nearly done by that point.
“I would have loved to coach Nagbe,” Savarese said. “I think he’s a talented player. I came a little bit after a decision had been made, but also I think a player needs to be where they want to be.”
Savarese has been actively involved in Portland’s recent offseason moves, including the club’s decision to sign Costa Rican center back Julio Cascante and an upcoming signing that has yet to be announced. Savarese was also given the leeway to name his coaching staff and is bringing former Cosmos assistant coach Carlos Llamosa and former Cosmos goalkeeper coach Guillermo “Memo” Valencia with him to Portland.
The Timbers are coming off a strong 2017 season where they finished first in the Western Conference before being upset by the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference semifinals. And while Savarese has limited time to integrate to his new role and city before the Timbers open preseason camp in just over two weeks, he has high expectations for the upcoming season.
“It’s a team and a club that’s coming into the season to be a winning club,” Savarese said. “What I can promise is we’re going to be the best that we can be for the first match.”
2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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