November 19, 2012
READY FOR THE CHALLENGE
New Cosmos coach Savarese ready to embrace it, not cower away from it
By Michael Lewis
|Giovanni Savarese: "We cannot hide the fact that it is a big responsibility and I embrace it that way. I embrace it with great respect, with great honor to be able to be the person appointed to be able to lead this new phase."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Given the club's storied past, Giovanni Savarese knows he and the 21st century version of the New York Cosmos have much to live up to.
He isn't cowering from the challenge. Instead, he is embracing it.
Savarese was named the new coach of the North American Soccer League club on Monday as he will direct the club in its first year back in competitive soccer since closing up shop in 1984..
"We cannot hide the fact that it is a big responsibility and I embrace it that way," he said on Monday. "I embrace it with great respect, with great honor to be able to be the person appointed to be able to lead this new phase. But we also have to make sure that we understand that this is a different kind of time. We're looking to build something new, built upon the history of the New York Cosmos and all the principles they had. . . . At the end of the day, the work ethic and the commitment are there to build the new adventure of the New York Cosmos."
Adventure is an appropriate word for the Cosmos, who earned five championships in the original NASL more than three decades ago behind the likes of Pele, Frank Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chingalia and Vladislav Bogicevic, among others.
And that's part of the Cosmos' double-edged sword. Their place in U.S. soccer history is second to none, and with that comes some great expectations. Many fans will expect excellence from the start. That might be a tall order for a team that will compete in the second tier of American pro soccer next season.
Remember, even the original Cosmos were not built in a day or a year, for that matter. They began as an expansion team in the original NASL in 1971, won the league title the next year and did not start transforming into the Cosmos we all know today until Pele joined the team in 1975. And even with the vast improvement, the Cosmos did not win another championship -- then renamed the Soccer Bowl -- until 1977,
"It wasn't built overnight back then," he said. "It took time, it took years little by little to become what then we all know that brought players like Pele, brought players like Beckenbauer and so forth. This is the same thing. It's going to take time for us to keep going. Maybe it's going to go a lot faster than in the past. Maybe we'll be a little bit different than what they had in the past.
"But the most important thing is that it has to be built one step at a time, not only by the new ownership group or the new technical group, it's going to have to be built by the whole community in New York, all the people that want to have soccer, all the people who would like this to be successful. They need to be patient in the process to make sure together we'll build something in the future that will be very exciting.
"Are we going to sign Pele? No. Pele already played, already was part of the past. Pele will be supporting this project. It is a new time and we've got to do it step by step."
Savarese, 41, one of the area's most popular soccer players as he made life miserable for opposing goalkeepers while filling the net for Long Island University, the Long Island Rough Riders (scoring 33 goals in a USISL championship season in 1995) and the MetroStars (41 goals in three seasons).
After retiring, he went into coaching as MetroStars/Red Bulls youth director, Met Oval soccer director before hooking up with his current team as director of the Cosmos Soccer Academy. He also guided the organization's Under-23 team this past year.
He certainly has a lot on his plate. Assuming the season begins in late March or early April, he has about four months to build a team. That should be plenty of time, although he is starting from scratch.
One priority is finding players -- known and unknown.
"We have some players in mind, but . . . not always all the players that you like they come true because there are so many variables," Savarese said. "So, it is better not to talk about those things until they are definite."
One thing is definite -- Savarese plans won't ignore American players. NASL teams are allowed seven foreigners on their roster. And when you factor in injuries, players in and out of form, suspensions, Savarese realized that he will need many Americans to make the Cosmos go.
"It's something important to take into consideration," he said. "We have to make sure this team is built with good, proud domestic talent as well as good international players who can help us in the areas that we need most in our team. It has to be a good combination. . . . One of the things that we have seen, not only in Major League Soccer but all across the soccer the past few years is all good teams and teams that have won have always had a very strong core of U.S. players and that's what we're looking for as well for our team."
Savarese can be a quick study. The history of soccer is littered with new coaches promising to player offensive soccer, that they will try to score lots of goals.
Ironically, Savarese, who tallied hundreds of goals in his career, hasn't promised a high-scoring team.
"The mentality is try to have a team that can play interesting soccer, a team teams tries to build up, that tries to play soccer, that tries to deliver a good product on the field," he said. "We need to make sure that we also deliver results."
Cosmos COO Erik Stover is convinced Savarese can deliver those results.
"There's not a person that is more passionate about this position and this organization, is more energetic in restarting this club and taking us to the level we all believe we can go," he said. "His enthusiasm for the position just bubbles over. That was very encouraging to see from the beginning. His connections on Long Island, in New York, having played in MLS for many years. The relationships he has on the youth level throughout the country, just made perfect from that point of view.
"He brings a real soccer DNA to our organization. You probably see the picture in him attending the youth [camp] with Pele. His understanding of this organization goes all the way back. He is widely respected, not only for how he played as a player and how much work he put into it, but as he is as a man off the field, supporting friends and relatives and what he does for the community. I don't think there is a better fit for us right now."