Giovanni Savarese’s next coaching challenge will be with the Portland Timbers. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

After five years of guiding the Cosmos to North American Soccer League glory, Giovanni Savarese got his reward to make his mark in Major League Soccer.

He will coach the Portland Timbers next year, succeeding Caleb Porter.

It was no fluke that Savarese has a coveted coach in MLS. He directed the Cosmos into the playoffs for five consecutive years and to three NASL championships.

“Gio is an intelligent, attack-minded coach and is a driven individual who is both a great fit with us on and off the field,” Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said.

Added Timbers president and general manager Gavin Wilkinson: “His leadership and man-management, coupled with his core values and previous accomplishments, made him the right fit for this club, and we are delighted to welcome him to the Timbers.”

Needless to say, Savarese embraced the opportunity.

“This is an ideal fit and outstanding opportunity for me as I take the next step in my coaching career,” he said. “The passion, ambition and support surrounding this club is truly inspiring.”

The 2017 season was his most difficult one and perhaps his best coaching job.

“It was a very, very difficult season,” he said, “probably the most difficult season I had to deal with in my time with the Cosmos.”

When asked what he learned this year, Savarese replied, “I think the first thing is, for sure, for me a PhD. degree. We tried so many formations and systems. We tried to incorporate whatever we could to be competitive in the beginning. That took a lot from us to be able to think, ‘Is his going to work? Is that one going to work?’

“Getting to know the players more and more and more in a preseason [when] we couldn’t have everybody. Always trying players. It was good to try so many different things.”

After new owner Rocco B. Commisso saved the club from extinction in January, there were only three players under contract. Savarese convinced several players who already had signed with other clubs to return and slowly, but surely, patched together a competitive side.

It wasn’t until the fall season that the Cosmos found their rhythm as Savarese used seven formations and styles of play.

“They were very resilient,” he said. “They tried to learn. We tried to have continuity towards the end. We had continuity in the 4-4-2, which I think was the best system that we found. The good thing is once we changed from a 3-5-2, we mostly played 4-4-2 and we found finally consistency, what we were looking for.

The Cosmos clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the season, stunned runaway regular-season winners Miami FC in The Championship semifinals and dropped a 2-0 decision to the San Francisco Deltas in the final.

Now, Gio will try for another championship in a new league.

Tuesday: Story No. 4