MARIETTA, Ga. — Giovanni Savarese and Tata Martino have followed starkly different paths, but on Saturday their coaching journeys will overlap at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, where they’ll patrol the touchlines for the Portland Timbers and Atlanta United in MLS Cup.
The 56-year-old Martino’s last two gigs were with Barcelona and Argentina, where he managed Lionel Messi in the Champions League and Copa América prior to becoming ATLUTD’s first head coach. In two seasons he’s already built an MLS juggernaut, stacked with attacking talent like 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez and ebullient midfielder Miguel Almiron.
Savarese, 47, rose through the coaching ranks in the United States, piloting the North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos to three championships. Now in his first season succeeding Caleb Porter, he has Portland on the precipice of winning the club’s second Philip F. Anschutz trophy, equipped with a stingy defense and vicious counterattacks supplied by Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
Both bosses have recent experience competing in finals, but their results differ greatly: Savarese won three of four at the Cosmos, with his first coming in Atlanta against the NASL's Silverbacks. Martino’s sides have finished as runners-up three times (Paraguay once and Argentina twice) in the Copa América.
How will those outcomes shape what transpires on Saturday?
“In every final, you learn. You learn a lot,” Savarese said at Thursday’s press conference. It’s a different game – a special moment with a level of emotion that is different. And when you have an opportunity to reach another final, and return to more finals, there’s a sense of added confidence. No matter the level, a final always brings a special component.”
Martino’s personal experience encompasses the highest levels of the sport in Europe and internationally, while Savarese is overseeing the team with more MLS Cup experience. The Timbers roster remains full of key players from their 2015 title, including central defender Liam Ridgewell, who started for Portland in the 2-1 win over Columbus Crew SC in MLS Cup four seasons ago.
“[The experience] does help,” Ridgewell told MLSsoccer.com at Timbers training. “You know how to go about everything. You know there’s going to be more media there, more people watching. There are more fireworks leading up to the game. Anything we can do to help the boys that have not experienced it is good.”
There’s an additional motivating factor at play for Martino, who no doubt would like to go out on top in Atlanta. He’ll coach the Five Stripes for the final time on Saturday, heavily linked to a move to the Mexican national team after that.
“Tata has coached at the top levels,” Savarese said. It’s never easy to even reach a final, no matter the competition. I have tremendous respect for him and what he’s done.”