By Michael Lewis
One of the best things about being a soccer writer is that you get an opportunity to watch some amazing feats by people who do things with their feet.
In late August and early September 1995 at the U.S. Interregional Soccer League’s Sizzlin’ Nine, Long Island Rough Riders striker Giovanni Savarese did just that, leading his team to its first league championship. Some of you readers might only know about Savarese as the head coach of the Portland Timbers, but when he was on the field in the prime of his career, he was one dangerous goal-scorer.
He scored eight goals over four playoff games in a seven-day period as the Rough Riders, who secured the top overall seed in the playoffs, played all of their games at home at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y.
I always felt Savarese was Clark Kent outside of the penalty area and Superman when he ran into the box.
Let us count the ways Savarese helped the Rough Riders find USISL glory:
* He scored the first goal of a 2-1 win over the Monterey Jaquars on Aug. 29. He was taken out of the game in the 21s minute after suffering a mild concussion.
* The Venezuelan international returned two days later on Aug. 31, connecting for a hat-trick in a 4-1 triumph over the New Mexico Chiles.
* Savarese made it back-to-back hat-trick, in a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Cyclones on Sept. 2.
* He completed his goal-scoring extravaganza with the game-winner in the 2-1 win over the Minnesota Thunder. After he was silenced for most of the match by defender Chato, Savarese saved his best for last, connecting with six seconds remaining in regulation. The players in the scoring sequence were amazing. Goalkeeper Tony Meola, a U.S. international, booted the ball down the field. A future U.S. national team standout, Chris Armas, caught up with the ball on the right wing and slotted the ball to Savarese. The Venezuelan then beat goalkeeper John Swallen from six yards for a stunning and triumphant ending to a marvelous season for the Rough Riders.
And if you thought the Riders played against patsy competition, then think again. Some of their opponents included future Major League Soccer players, including, but not limited to Peter Vermes, Tony Sanneh, Manny Lagos, Paul Bravo, Amos Magee, Jeff Baicher and John DeBrito. Future college coaches Jim McElderry (Seton Hall University) and Kevin Anderson (Columbia University) also participated as did current North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.
The championship and goals culminated a dream season for Savarese, who finished with 33 goals and 11 assists in 29 games.
“You can’t go wrong when you have a goal-scorer who can give you a quality performance,” Rough Riders head coach Alfonso Mondelo said. “You’re seeing a star being born. You’re going to see a lot of Giovanni Savarese in the coming years.”
Mondelo was correct. Savarese was taken by the NY/NJ MetroStars in the player draft and tallied 14 times in their first season in 1996, becoming one of the most dangerous forwards during the early days of Major League Soccer.