Gio Savarese leads Portland Timbers to 2018 MLS Cup
Dec 2018

Richard Nuttall isn’t surprised Giovanni Savarese has found success with the Portland Timbers, guiding the team to the 2018 MLS Cup in his first season in charge.

Nuttall, the legendary Hofstra University men’s soccer coach, has known Savarese for nearly 30 years dating back to Savarese’s collegiate playing days at Long Island University. Nuttall coached him at the Greek Americans (CSL), and the two also played together for the Long Island Rough Riders, leading the club to the 1995 USISL championship with Savarese being named regular-season and playoff MVP.

Savarese’s Timbers play Atlanta United FC in the 2018 MLS Cup on Dec. 8. Kickoff is 8 p.m. from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The game will be broadcast on FOX and Unimás.

“As a human being, first and foremost, you couldn’t meet a nicer, more passionate young man who loves the game and is incredibly gracious and cares about the people he’s in charge of,” Nuttall said. “I knew he’d be successful with the (New York) Cosmos because of his traits and really thought he could do well in the MLS, too. It makes me immensely proud.”

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Savarese came to the United States in 1990 and began a four-year collegiate career at LIU. Savarese was then an integral part in the Rough Riders’ 1995 USISL championship-winning campaign along with Chris Armas, Jim Rooney, Tony Meola, Paul Riley, Paul Davis, and Nuttall.

Savarese scored 23 goals en route to earning regular-season and postseason MVP honors as Long Island went 19-1, winning 19 straight matches after losing the season opener. In the playoffs, Savarese scored four goals in two games of the Sizzlin’ Nine Championship, including a hat trick in the 4-1 win against the New Mexico Chiles, to send the Rough Riders into the semifinals.

He continued his torrid scoring streak with three more goals in a 5-2 win against the Tampa Bay Cyclones to set up a battle against the Minnesota Thunder in the final. With the score knotted at 1-1, Savarese scored the match-winner in the 90th minute to give the Rough Riders their first national championship.

“So many incredibly successful people came from that team,” Nuttall said. “Most are still involved in the sport today. It was a great launching pad for so many people including Gio and (New York Red Bulls head coach) Chris Armas.”

Savarese played professionally for 18 seasons, including five in Major League Soccer, with stints in England, Italy, and Venezuela as well. He ended his playing career by scoring five goals in 10 games for the Rough Riders in 2004.

He’s found success transitioning to the sidelines, leading the Cosmos to three NASL titles and four finals appearances before taking over the reins in Portland on December 18, 2017. The Timbers went 15-9-10 (54 points) this season, finishing fifth in the Western Conference. Portland defeated the Seattle Sounders 4-2 on penalty kicks to break the 3-3 aggregate score over the two legs in the Western Conference Semifinal. After a scoreless draw at home against Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference Final, the Timbers won 3-2 on the road to secure their spot in the 2018 MLS Cup.

“You’re a product of your past,” Nuttall said. “He’s a soccer junkie who has been involved with so many different personalities and he’s taken that knowledge and coupled it with his passion. When you put those two together that shows why he gets great results. It’s a combination of his background, intensity, and willingness to work with people.

“It really shines through at the highest level.”

BY: Michael LoRé
Staff Writer