Professional soccer, like any other sport, is a business. In nearly every league and every club, the bottom line IS the bottom line ($). The fates of players and coaches lie in the success and failures of the club, on the pitch and off and the revenues that these do or do not generate. This dictates nearly every move that the average club will make and will guide most of their personnel decisions.
But, sometimes, that is not all that guides the direction of a club in what they do with their roster.
I am sitting in a room with Head Coach and Sporting Director Giovanni Savarese and members of the media. I’m surprised and honored to be among this group of prominent writers but, nevertheless, here I am.
In the course of delivering updates on the stadium, academy, preseason, and other items of interest, a main point of discussion focuses on changes to the roster, primarily departures from the club. Names of players who’ve been around since the original 2013 squad like Hunter Gorskie and Hagop Chirishian come up. Other more prominent departures are discussed. Walter Restrepo. Haji Wright.
But throughout the course of the discussion, a noticeable theme continues to reappear in statements about the players.
“Haji Wright signed with us, but we had a clear plan from the beginning. We knew he would be a player that would be with us for the time being and that this transition period for him had to be good to prepare him for what he would encounter in Europe.”
“He [Hunter Gorskie] felt now that he wants to explore what his passport can give him in Europe, but is not closing the door with us.”
“We always knew he [Walter Restrepo] wanted to be somewhere else [after 2015]. He wanted an adventure…so we made sure that the adventure was the best one for him possible.”
There have been questions and criticisms from many about the release of Wright and allowing Restrepo, a key cog in last year’s championship team, to depart despite the club holding an option on him for 2017.
But as the conversation goes on, the reasoning behind these moves begin to follow.
It becomes clear that the Cosmos are well aware of what their players’ desires for the immediate future and their long-term goals are, be it with them or not.
“We’ve been talking to players all 365 days and sitting down, understanding what they want to do, are they content with the club, what they want to do with their career,” says Savarese.
More details on Restrepo’s situation better explain what his thought process was upon joining the Cosmos.
“With Restrepo, it was a situation which we always knew. It’s not a matter of how much money can we offer him to stay. Mentally, he always had the desire of trying to either go to Europe or make it on an MLS club and we had the talk with him at the beginning of the year,” explains the head coach. “We’ve seen tremendous growth from him this year and, actually, the way he played the final, the way he defended in the final is something you wouldn’t see at the beginning of the year. It led to a more complete player. By being a more complete player, there were more teams interested in him.”
There is no desire to hold Restrepo, or any player, hostage.
“We want players to be happy to play for the shirt 100%.”
When the conversation turns to Haji Wright, Savarese lights up and the conversation gets even more spirited.
“There’s two things that are important. We care about Haji, we care about the development of the sport. We believe that some youngsters need to go professional young enough in order to be successful. With Haji, we already know he will have the possibility to move on to a team in Europe. We can be that a team that can help him be successful there and we wanted to be a participant in his success to move on.”
He wholly believes in what this will achieve.
“This will open a trend, this will open a belief that other players can do it. This has paid off now with Alexis [Velela] and many other players see that we do right by the players. And I think it shows as well that sometimes we’re willing to do deals that economically, at that point, don’t benefit us, but benefits the player and we’re willing to do that for the growth of the sport,” he explains.
The Cosmos may already be seeing some payoff from this thought process.
“In the future, it will mean more deals done. Because I sat down with two clubs last week from Europe that want to do this but in a different way which is going to be to our advantage, so we’re very content with the decision of Haji Wright.”
If you’ve spoken with Gio about the club, you know he wholeheartedly believes in what the Cosmos are doing. He’s passionate and it’s contagious. Yet today, he’s hit a new level even for me. He’s fired up, engaging every person in the room and hitting the table enough to leave a slight rattle in my recording of the conversation. And then we get to the core thoughts guiding how he operates with the players.
“I have a philosophy. I believe that if you do good by players, that’s something that spreads out. And wherever they are, they’ll preach about what we do in the squad. Eventually, you’ll get another situation back or another player who hears something positive and they know that we treat players well and we have the best intentions for them and that will come back.”
It’s all in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from a coach that routinely expresses his belief in what his players can achieve and, with two titles in three years, has apparently found the way to unlock those achievements and make them give that 100% for the badge.
“I believe that when we do the right things, eventually it will grow into trust; the trust from the players when they sign and know that we really mean well for them.”
This is great by Luis. Honestly, I am not shocked to read some of the quotes and emotions he explains here. As much as people can question the Cosmos off the field (marketing, Hofstra, etc.), on the field they run this club as professionally as any in the world.
Gio is a legend and not only does he know all of his players inside and out, he genuinely cares about them and that is why he gets the most out of them on the field. The Cosmos have always claimed they wanted to be a ‘proper club’ and the way they handle the players and coaches backs up their words.