It's been a while for a couple of old pals from the good ol' days of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (yes, that was the full name in their debut season), but the friendship between Tab Ramos and Gio Savarese hasn't subsided.
Ramos, a US men's national team superstar and Savarese, a Venezuelan international forward who lit up the New York City soccer scene before the inaugural season of Major League Soccer in 1996, were two key players from day one of the Metrostars. Savarese was the team's leading scorer, Ramos the face of the franchise.
Both went into coaching after their playing careers and are set for their first meeting on opposite sidelines, as Savarese's Portland Timbers face Ramos' Houston Dynamo on Saturday (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVAS).
“Gio and I are very good friends," Ramos told reporters on a video conference call. "I respect him so much, not just as a coach but as a person."
"It's incredible," Savarese added. "Thinking back to that team of the MetroStars, how many players became coaches, it is very interesting. Peter Vermes, Tab [Ramos], Roberto Donadoni, Miles [Joseph], it really is incredible."
On this date in 1996 the MetroStars beat the Dallas Burn 3-2 at Giants Stadium.— Today In RBNY History (@RBNY_History) July 10, 2020
Roberto Donadoni set up the first two goals, one from Nicola Caricola and the other from Savarese. Down 2, Dallas tied it up before a gorgeous run by Ramos set up Savarese's winner. pic.twitter.com/iOfjZ55G1w
Both teams are coming off encouraging results in Group F of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Houston battled reigning Supporters' Shield champs LAFC to a wild 3-3 draw, while Portland beat the LA Galaxy 2-1. Both are in a good spot to secure qualification to the knockout rounds, but their matchup on Saturday will be pivotal to those chances (as well as picking up big regular-season points).
"Tab is a clever manager, he's one that's very pragmatic," Savarese said. "We have seen that with the national team when he was coaching there. We have seen what he's building in Houston, he's building a team that is strong mentally, he's building a team has depth, pieces that are clear in the way they want to play. We saw against LAFC how well they did and it's going to be a tough match for us."
"As a player, he was a hard-worker and earned everything he got," Ramos added. "His team reflects that. They all defend, they all work hard. It’s a reflection of their coach.”
Dynamo defender Zarek Valentin worked under Savarese in Portland for two years before joining the Dynamo this year for Ramos' maiden club coaching voyage and is uniquely positioned to weigh in on the two.
“There are similarities and differences," Valentin said. "One similarity is that they were both attacking players, so they want to enjoy the ball and give players the freedom to express themselves. Because that’s what they did. Both want to give the players space to create for themselves. One of the differences would be personality... Gio wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s passionate and wants to be on the field with you. You can see that he’s in the game, when he leaves he’s sweating. Tab is a little more controlled the way he goes about things, neither is right or wrong.”