For Cosmos’ Savarese, a ‘Most Difficult Moment’

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by JACK BELL

No parades. No celebration. Last November the New York Cosmos won their second straight North American Soccer League championship, the club’s third in four years. And then. …

Instead of enjoying time to drink it all in — to celebrate the play of an skillful and entertaining club — the doubts, rampant rumors and breathless reports of the demise of the league and the club were as ubiquitous as those oversize coupons from Bed Bath and Beyond.

“Was it difficult?” Coach Giovanni Savarese said. “We had no time to breath. We won the championship on Sunday [defeating Indy Eleven in a penalty-kick shootout in the makeshift venue of Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University] and on Monday we were working to try and help, to fix things for the club. It was a very difficult year. You think ‘we won the championship now can relax and think about the future.’ It became difficult to handle.”

As the league tottered on the brink, eventually shrinking from 12 to 8 teams, the Cosmos — one of the most storied names in U.S. soccer — released all their players, cut office staff and floated in limbo. Savarese, the dedicated and personable players’ coach, scrambled to maintain his focus and health while also helping his guys find landing spots. Amid all that he was reported to have interviewed with the Houston Dynamo while also casting an eye to the Midwest and a possible job with Minnesota United as that club left the NASL and prepared for its first year in Major League Soccer.

Stories swirled: Savarese was headed to the Land of 10,000 Lakes; the Cosmos were seeking a hefty transfer fee for a coach who still had one year left on his contract with a team that might no longer exist. Rumors? Facts? There seemed to be three sides to the story.

“There’s only one real story, for sure,” Savarese said. “What I can say is that there was an opportunity, an option. It just didn’t happen. Maybe things would have been different in another time. There were just too many other things happening. I’ve always said all along that I’m open to other opportunities, but right now I’m proud to be a part of the Cosmos. I have given my best. I have one year left on my contract and there were things that needed to be considered by different parties.”

New York Cosmos

The opportunity with Minnesota came and went [to Adrian Heath], and now Savarese, the Cosmos and the NASL have a one-year reprieve — at worst — to right the ship. US Soccer gave the league another waiver to remain in the second tier and Rocco Commisso stepped forward to rescue the team as its new majority owner. Savarese was tasked with picking up the pieces and rebuilding a roster that had dispersed to the far corners of the soccer world.

The Cosmos did manage to re-sign several players — a list that includes Jimmy Maurer, Danny Szetela (after a flirtation with the expansion San Francisco Deltas), Andrés Flores, Jimmy Mulligan, Kyle Zobeck and Andrea Mancini. Walter Restrepo returned to the club and the NASL journeyman Richard Menjivar also signed on. The club is expected to announced the signing of striker Amauri at a news conference on Tuesday. Last week there was also a report that the team is interested in the Jamaican international Lance Laing. The roster remains a work in progress as the start of the 2017 season approaches in late March.

“I am content with guys who returned and we will build little by little,” Savarese said. “In my soccer career as a player and as a coach, this has been my most difficult moment, but there are moments that pass in life and you can’t get stuck in that situation. We will find the roster we want to have. We have a great group and we will continue to build it.”

All the upheaval and uncertainly have wounded the NASL, the Cosmos and Savarese, not fatally perhaps, but with the club moving its home games from Hofstra University on Long Island to MCU Park in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, the notion of a brand in ascendence has taken a hit.

The parades will have to wait. Now, it’s all about survival. All they can do is keep going and hope for the best.