Giovanni Savarese had the support of his players during a tumultous 2017 season with the Cosmos. (Joy Rubenstein/FrontRowSoccer.com)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The ultimate mark of a coach?

How well his or her team acquits itself on the field. Winning usually trumps everything. Winning championships is the ultimate goal.

During his five-year tenure with the Cosmos, Giovanni Savarese forged a reputation as a winner, capturing three North American Soccer League titles and reached a fourth final.

Moreover, he received respect and plaudits from his players, quite possibly not more during a tumultuous 2017 season.

They were dead in the water in early January, then were saved by Rocco B. Commisso, who purchased the team.

Savarese, who was helping players find other teams, had to switch gears and convince them to return to the two-time NASL champions.

Savarese, who will coach the Portland Timbers against Atlanta United in the MLS Cup Sunday, built the team quickly and New York had a roller-coaster ride during the season before a six-game unbeaten streak at the end of the season propelled the side into The Championship semifinals on the final day of the regular season.

In 2017, FrontRowSoccer.com asked three Cosmos players, two veterans and a newcomer, to talk about Savarese’s role with the club that season.

Not surprisingly, they felt Savarese should be NASL coach of the year. Of course, they are biased.

Here’s what they had to say:

Carlos Mendes, captain and center back

“It shows you his quality as a coach and as a person because in moments during the season when things didn’t look good or we were not winning games or on a streak that was very difficult, he never ever panicked. Our coaching staff never panicked; always gave belief and confidence in the locker room and I think that’s the reason why we are playing in the playoffs today, in the semifinals. So credit to our coach and coaching staff in believing in us and never panicking. … Things could have even turned worse or sitting home right now reflecting on the season, if we didn’t have the leadership like coach Gio.”

Jimmy Maurer, goalkeeper

“I don’t think anyone except maybe his wife fully understands how much he really gives to this club, his job. He really does so many things. We’re with him more hours than his wife is. He’s always putting the hours in and a few weeks later we’ll hear about something he did behind the scenes to help us. He’s fighting for us in every regard. Little things like we’re not doing too many appearances. He’s trying to do the best for everyone in the organization. He’s trying to keep the balance right. One trip we had something with laundry and he’s sprinting off to get clothes. This guy really does way more than anyone knows. And it’s all those little things that have helped keep everything together this year. To be able to have a guy like Gio to bring some of us back in who felt very hard done by in the offseason for different things, it was Gio who got everyone to come back. Its Gio that gets us through when something is not going our way. He’s so calm, so positive, when we’re struggling, and we know we would be doing better in the middle of the season, you can’t say enough about how much be brings.

“Gio has been just incredible, the stuff he does and the way he is able to bring our personalities together, make the team mesh, balance everyone. Even the guys that aren’t even in the 18 weekly, he really goes out of his way to make sure everyone feels they are part of this team that we’re a family. It starts with him.”

“As a coach he is dealing with 27-30 individuals. But he goes out of his way to make sure that everyone feels involved, to make sure you can communicate where you are on the team, what you can be going better, what you’re doing well, different things the team needs, what you can do to help the team. And those little things go a long way for players and that’s why everyone talks so highly of Gio. I don’t know any player, even if he is a guy that Gio never plays, guys still respect him on how honest and up front he is. That’s all you can ask for. If a coach decides to go with another guy, that’s the job, that’s the business, sometimes you’re not the player the coach picks. Maybe you’re not good enough or maybe he likes the guy’s characteristics, whatever it may be. But at the end of the day, people want you to be honest and forthcoming with them and that’s the biggest thing.

Irvin Herrera, midfielder:

“He’s kept the team together. He knows how to motivate us. He knows how to talk to us, get everyone on the same page. That’s why the team hasn’t broken down. He’s always there for us, he’s always talking to us, motivating us every day in practice, every day before the game. It’s one whole big family. He’s one of the key part of the team. It’s very together most of the time.”

Herrera on having a good locker room (through the coach):

“It can help tremendously. Having a good locker room can impact big time inside the field because every player trusts each other, and they believe in each other and work for each other. It all starts from the locker room. As soon as you step onto the field for practice, even coming from the coaching staff, everybody is together. That is one of the key points that still keeps this team together throughout. everything that we’ve been through. We weren’t sure we were going to have a team, the whole thing going on with the league and stuff like that. We just focus on our thing, focus on Sunday’s game, and then go from there.”

Savarese on the season:

“It’s been very, very difficult this year because we started late, because we always tried to catch up, because we had to change many players because of what happened last year. In the mind of the players we had to change so many things, a lot of new players that we brought in. So, it was a difficult year.

“On the other side, it was difficult to prepare things, to build the team. So to be able to make the playoffs is a great reward on the hard work we have put in this year. Some people say, ‘The Cosmos should be there.’ Yes, of course, the Cosmos should be in the playoffs. You have to take into consideration everything that has gone on this year. We were at a risk at not making it because of the difficulties we had to go through. Thank God the group has been able to grow, to raise to another level, to find finally that feeling of finally getting back to the real Cosmos. I think that’s the way we have looked at the past few games, and we’re getting back to what we used to be.”