Real Salt Lake winger Jefferson Savarino has the chance to get his first meaningful international minutes when the Venezuelan men’s national team opens Copa America play against Peru on Saturday.
Since making his debut with Venezuela just over two years ago in an international friendly against the United States, Savarino has been looking to break through.
If recent performances are any indication, Savarino may be eying a key role as Venezuela’s starting right winger. Savarino started and scored in a 3-0 win over the U.S. last week and subbed on during the second half of Venezuela’s 3-1 loss to Mexico.
The jitters are gone as he turns to Copa America, Savarino said after the friendly against El Tri in Atlanta.
“Maybe [I felt pressure] starting the first game, because I’m a young player,” Savarino said. “But I don’t think I have pressure at this moment, thanks to God. I have a lot of confidence and hopefully, in the next games, I can keep developing that confidence.”
Savarino looked confident on the ball against the U.S. He scored in the 30th minute when he recovered his own shot that hit off the post and kept composure to finish and put Venezuela ahead 2-0. It was Savarino’s first goal in international competition.
The 22-year-old has three goals in Major League Soccer play this season, and they’ve been crucial for an RSL club that struggles to find points at times. He delivered a decisive goal in MLS action against Atlanta United, another from outside the box.
Savarino, a designated player who RSL signed from Zulia on May 9, 2017, is valued less for his goal scoring and more for his versatility and skill on the ball. While his size can cause him to be bullied at times, his foot skills show. He provided a nutmeg assisted to Damir Kreilach in a 2-1 win against Orlando City SC that snapped a four-match losing streak for RSL.
“Jefferson’s a special player on attack, and that’s something that didn’t come by accident,” RSL manager Mike Petke told reports after the match against Orlando City. “That’s something that he had in his mind, I’m sure, a split second or two before that happened. That doesn’t surprise me.
“What I’m more concerned about, more challenging Jefferson is his defensive work rate. And tonight I think that he responded well after a week that I put the screws to him a little bit in practice, a couple of days this week, and I think he responded a bit today. So his nutmeg pass for Kreilach, like I said I didn’t remember it because it doesn’t surprise me with Jefferson.”
Savarino’s second-half substitution against Mexico didn’t light up the box score, but he displayed some of the budding confidence he mentioned after the match. He acted as a distributor at times and was seen calling for the ball even when he was under pressure.
Savarino possessed the ball deep into the attacking third with tricky touches and passed to Juan Pablo Anor, who fired a shot on goal in the 72nd minute. Two minutes later, he repossessed a near turnover in Venezuela’s attacking third and distributed the ball.
“I’m happy for the minutes that I played,” Savarino said after the game. “Obviously sad for the result, but the next game we’re going to be growing and developing our talent with the players that we have. And we’re now thinking about the most important games in Copa America.”
Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel isn’t asking Savarino to do much more than he does for Real Salt Lake. Savarino said he’s utilized in the interior and is a prototypical No. 10 for Venezuela. The winger will try to add the same life to Venezuela’s transitions that he adds to RSL’s.
“Copa America is such a prestigious tournament and for Jefferson to have the opportunity to represent his country on that stage is tremendous,” RSL general manager Craig Waibel said. “He continues to develop on and off the field, and this is a great reward for his work.”