Gio Savarese (upper right corner) celebrates with his Portland side. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)
Gio Savarese finally led a team to the Concacaf Champions League, though it wasn’t the original one he wanted.
His Portland Timbers FC booked a spot in the 2020-21 competition Tuesday night by defeating Orlando City SC, 2-1, in the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.
The winner received a berth in the next CCL.
As head coach of the New York Cosmos from 2013-17, one of Savarese’s goals was to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup so the team could compete in the CCL. While the Cosmos upset Major League Soccer teams three times, the squad did not win the Open Cup title.
So, for Savarese, who guided the Cosmos to three North American Soccer League championships (2013, 2015, 2016), reaching the Concacaf competition was a culmination of a dream.
“For us, it’s going to be a great memory because it’s special,” he said. “It’s unique. Being able to lift this trophy that gives us, right now, the possibility to compete outside the United States in the Concacaf Champions League. It’s a special feeling. Who knows if there will be another tournament like this? But at least we feel proud that we were able to get this one and bring another trophy to Portland, back to our fans.”
Regardless what the competition is, Savarese has always put his heart and soul into it.
“Every tournament, every season that you play, every moment that you compete is special when you achieve something important,” he said. “This tournament, we came here with a purpose. I thought the quality of the teams that came here was above expectations. The way it was organized, with some concerns at the beginning, but then at the end, MLS doing a great job to put together an unbelievable tournament, which I think achieved so much for the fans that were looking forward to seeing their team.
Portland and Orlando were the two last MLS teams standing in the tournament, which meant they spent 35 days in a bubble at Disney World, away from friends and family.
“It hasn’t been easy, but we felt very secure,” Savarese said. “We felt, as I said before, that MLS did a great job to make sure that we were in this bubble and we were able to feel that our minds could concentrate on competing besides anything else. I think for us it was great being inside to watch so many matches as well.”
Not surprisingly, Savarese was all business, all soccer, like he was with the Cosmos. He didn’t miss watching a game at the competition.
“We’re looking for every single day, waking up early to watch the game in the morning, watching the two games after, having chats with colleagues, looking at the whole MLS, entire teams being here,” he said. “I think it was a monumental event that ended up being amazing. For us to be able to go all the way and win this great tournament, we feel very proud. All-around, credit to the players.”