For many New York Cosmos fans, Christmas came a little early this year. The club announced today that Giovanni Savarese would be the coach of its North American Soccer League (NASL) team next season. Sure, some Cosmologists were hoping Pep Guardiola enjoyed his summer in New York City enough to slum it for a stint in Division 2 American soccer. But those of us with more realistic aspirations were hoping that Gio, a New York City soccer legend who served as the Director of the Cosmos Academy under the previous regime, would get the nod.
Savarese was born in Caracas, Venezuela on July 14, 1970. His name screams Italian (he’s of Italian descent) but his accent is classic Venezuelan. A gifted young player, he attended one of Pele’s youth soccer camps as a kid. He matured as part of the Deportiva Italia Futbol Club in Caracas (now called the Deportivo Petare Futbol Club) before coming to the United States to attend college at Long Island University, where he was a standout player.
Savarese went on to play for the Greek American Atlas soccer club in Queens and then the Long Island Rough Riders, where he scored 36 goals in two years and helped win the 1995 USISL Championship. That scoring prowess earned him a spot on the Venezuelan national team as well as in the inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) draft, where he was selected by the New York/New Jersey MetroStars – the forerunners to today’s New York Red Bulls. Not only did he score the team’s first goal in their first game, he scored 44 goals in all competitions during his three seasons at the club – a record that stood until 2009, when Juan Pablo Angel finally broke it.
As a reward for his success, the club traded Savarese to the New England Revolution for the 1999 season. He briefly returned to Venezuela to play for Deportivo Tachira Futbol Club before signing with Perugia in Italy. He returned to MLS for a brief stint with the San Jose Earthquakes before spending the 2000-2001 season with Swansea City.
Savarese returned to the United States as an assistant coach for St. John’s University but ended up playing for the Rough Riders again in 2004. The following year he was put in charge of youth development at the MetroStars, overseeing the program through the transition to the Red Bulls. In 2008, he was named the US Development Academy National U16 Coach of the Year.
In 2010, Savarese was appointed Director of the Cosmos Academy East and eventually placed in charge of the entire program when the West Coast Academy closed. He also served as the club’s PDL coach for a few exhibition games in 2011. The former Venezuelan international also serves as a regular futbol commentator for ESPN Deportes.
“With his stature and connections in the New York area, combined with his eye for talent and leadership ability, Gio is the perfect candidate to lead the Cosmos back to the playing field,” said Erik Stover, the recently appointed COO of the New York Cosmos.
“I know how much the New York Cosmos mean to the local soccer community, understand my great responsibility and am excited about the challenges ahead,” added Savarese. “I’m thrilled and appreciative for the opportunity and look forward to putting together a competitive team.”
Savarese’s appointment was immediately met with delight on social media and fan forums. He was a fan favorite in his playing career throughout the New York metropolitan area. His familiarity with the local youth and college programs, amateur adult leagues, and semi-pro and professional teams should give him a tremendous advantage when it comes to building an NASL side. In fact, when I ran into him during the 2012 Cosmos Copa NYC tournament, he stunned me by being able to rattle off the background of every top player I had spotted. As a player or a coach, he has connections to every level of soccer in and around New York City. You couldn’t ask for a better man to build an NASL team in New York City.
Savarese’s appointment also sets the tone for the Cosmos’ immediate NASL ambitions. The fact that they didn’t opt for some big name from Europe should help temper expectations. The club may have an ace up its sleeve, but I wouldn’t expect to see Tevez, Kaka, Cole, and Van der Sar in the starting line-up next season. Savarese will likely build a team from the Cosmos former Youth Academy graduates, Cosmos Copa NYC standouts, local pro and semi-pro players, as well as whatever NASL and perhaps even a few MLS players he can lure away from other squads.
We won’t see the superstars of Cosmos lore in 2013. But we will see a competitive team, befitting an NASL franchise. And with a coach like Gio, it will likely be a good one.