Giovanni Savarese: “We cannot live in the past. We need to live in the present.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
Some soccer clubs have a bogey team, a squad they just can’t beat.
New York City FC? Well, the Cityzens look like have a bogey coach in one Giovanni Savarese.
Over the past six years, Savarese’s sides has had a knack of defeating City teams in cup competitions.
Cases in point:
* In 2015, the New York Cosmos overcame a two-goal deficit in the second half to beat NYCFC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Hofstra University. The Cosmos won via penalty kicks.
* In 2016, Danny Szetela’s 88th-minute header boosted the Cosmos to a 1-0 victory over City in the Open Cup at Fordham University.
* And in 2020, the Portland Timbers downed NYCFC in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando, Fla., 3-1. Portland went on to win the competition.
Savarese, who try to make it four in a row when his Portland Timbers host NYCFC in the MLS Cup final in Portland on Saturday at 3 p.m. (ABC), felt the past was the past. He had to worry about the present and the challenge that City will bring to his team.
“Good times in the two U.S. Open Cup games and the MLS back tournament,” Savarese said during a Zoom media press conference on Tuesday. “Definitely, I remember every minute of those games, who started, who played who took the PKS, so I remember everything of those matches.”
“But I wish that I could tell you that every time you play a team if you’ve been successful, it repeats itself,” he added. “It doesn’t repeat itself without having to do a lot of new work, a lot of new preparation. Teams change. Teams evolve. Teams have different players.
“And you need to be really prepared with your group to confront [a team] especially this group of players that New York City FC has. They’ve been good especially in the playoffs. They beaten teams like New England Revolution, which they were at a very good point in order to go all the way. New York City and a very good strong performance. So, we expect them to be very good.
“We cannot live in the past. We need to live in the present. We have to make sure that we arrive to this game very prepared, ready to compete, ready to be able to understand what we need to do offensively, defensively, set pieces. Everything has to be understood and executed. Hopefully we can get the result that we need in order to be able to win a trophy.”
Savarese has some extremely strong ties to the New York/New Jersey metro area. He was a scoring star at Long Island University. Not only did he lead the U.S. Interregional Soccer League in scoring in 1995, but he also scored the winning goal in the championship, a 2-1 triumph, over Minnesota. He played three seasons with the MetroStars and wound up as the club’s leading all-time goal-scorer for several years.
At the grassroots, level, Savarese filled the net for N.Y. Greek-American Atlas and the Brooklyn Italians.
“New York is always going to be part of my life,” he said. “There’s so many great memories. I’ve been in New York for a long time. I have many, many good friends in New York. So, it’s always a special place for me how those relate from this New York team? It’s just that it’s a New York team. That said I mean when we are working.”
With the Cosmos, Savarese guided the team to three North American Soccer League titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016, reaching the championship game in 2017 as well. When it appeared the Cosmos were not going to return for the 2018 season, the Venezuelan native received an offer from the Timbers he could not turn down. He has directed the Major League Soccer side since 2018, leading the club into the MLS Cup final that year. Portland lost at Atlanta United, 2-0.
While New York might be in Savarese’s heart, his brain is in the Pacific Northwest in in his brain these days.
“I’m the coach of the Portland Timbers and we have to play a match in a game to win. It the happens to be the final in our stadium,” he said. “So, I’m extremely excited. Love the City of Portland. I’ve been enjoying my time here and being the coach of this team and the coach of this group. So, we’re going to be as prepared as we can to play against a very good team, a team that is going through a lot through the years. when I was there with the Cosmos. They have had big stars, good players, different coaches, different situations. They have had good moments, difficult moments.
“But it’s the first time that they’re arriving to this stage. So, I’m sure that they’re very excited about this moment. It looks you like they have a group as well that has found a way to push together. We expect [them] to be very good as we expect ourselves to be very good. I think it’s going to be a good soccer match, a good event. I think it’s going to be a game in which everyone that is watching from overseas will see that MLS has grown a lot. For us, it’s a battle to try to get a cup to be the best version of ourselves against a good team.”