PORTLAND, Ore. – When the Portland Timbers parted with longtime coach Caleb Porter in November, the club's front office had an urgent decision ahead: With offseason moves already in the works, they needed a new manager quickly.
Fortunately for owner Merritt Paulson and general manager Gavin Wilkinson, it didn't take long for Giovanni Savarese to become their clear frontrunner.
"Gavin did the first round of interviews by phone and I stayed in close contact with him about it," Paulson recalled Monday at Savarese's formal introduction as the Timbers' third MLS head coach. "I remember after he spoke to Gio, he said, 'I don't want to tip my hand, but I really like this guy. Let's get him right out here.'"
Soon after that, Savarese was in Portland meeting with Paulson, Wilkinson and other executives. The then-New York Cosmos boss came with a prepared scouting report for his first interview, outlining where he saw the Timbers' strengths and how he would exploit the team if he were playing against them as a coach.
Wilkinson said Savarese "challenged our thought process on players," which he said was "educational." But the two sides shared the same vision for attack-minded, possession-oriented soccer and a desire to see the Timbers be the dominant team on the field at all times. After three face-to-face meetings, the Timbers general manager's mind was settled.
"We had a great group of candidates, but we just felt Gio separated himself in just about every aspect," Wilkinson said.
Savarese joins the Timbers after five seasons amassing a 65-26-44 overall record and three championships with the NASL's Cosmos. He brings with him five years of MLS playing experience with the MetroStars, San Jose Earthquakes and New England Revolution, and the ability to speak to players in English, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese, which made him an attractive candidate.
A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Savarese said Portland is a "perfect fit" for the next phase of his career.
"From the beginning when we sat down, I felt we shared the same ideals, we saw soccer the same way," Savarese said. "It took a little time – they had to get to know me and I had to get to know the club. But in the end, the more we got together, the more it felt right."
Savarese has frequently been mentioned for other past MLS openings. He said some of the rumors about him interviewing for MLS jobs weren't true, but he had previously come close to joining MLS as a manager before with one "very interested" club.
"I thought it was a great club, but the timing wasn't right," Savarese said, declining to specify which team it was. "Everything just fit right now to make this transition. I'm glad it's this club, the Portland Timbers. Being from the outside, watching the Timbers, it's a club you want to be a part of.
"I need to believe in the club I'm coaching for and I'm there for the right reasons. I like to be part of a club that shares the same beliefs and I did with the Cosmos, that's why I stayed so long. I was waiting for when the time was right to move on and this time was right."