Savarese, with a smile, folds his arms and looks up.
“Every year with the Cosmos has been unique and different.”
The story has been told so many times that it’s almost stale. The Cosmos were in peril, Gio worked day and night to get players situated, and Rocco comes in to ensure the 2017 Cosmos (and NASL) exist. That part of the tale is well behind this group and this man.
Now, the focus is the pitch. The amount of time spent with the Cosmos, for some players, is measured in weeks and not months. Many players have endured double shifts on the training pitch to build chemistry and, even simpler, gain match fitness. Gio himself has pulled defenders Darrius Barnes and Dejan Jakovic aside for individual work after team sessions. The club has registered a win, loss, and draw during it’s “reboot” campaign thus far, and hosts first place Jacksonville at MCU this weekend. What does Savarese, the man who has done nothing but push the Cosmos forward since the day he took the helm, want most?
“I think we need to be patient. We are patient and we’re moving in the right direction. I hope everyone else understands (the quick turnaround) and can be patient as well. We see the improvement little by little, and it’s important to be able to plan every weekend and stick to that plan. We’re trying to get results while we’re still growing as a team, and we’re bringing that patience as you mentioned.”
“The results help, and these past two weeks have helped. We had a good result against Miami, who is a very good team, and the guys were able to execute a good plan to get a good victory.”This patience urged by Savarese is, unquestionably, justified. The team’s preseason started roughly a month before it’s opening game in Puerto Rico, and much of the squad has spent more time with the Cosmos during the NASL season than during preseason. Savarese recognizes the challenges of this year, and admits that the debacle during December hindered the trajectory of what’s he’s built in New York since 2013.
“We have to adapt to the challenges that year will bring and try to put the best situation for the players. Of course, we were building up from the base, and every year we were trying to be at a better base, adding what we felt needed to add. What happened in December disrupted that path we were having. Now, it’s trying to make sure that we have the patience to know things will not happen overnight. We need to work, we need to improve, we need to see players in different positions. We’re starting to see that some players can give us more in certain areas than others, and the way also we had to build the roster was basically without time. We’re getting more comfortable with the guys, and we see guys are starting to push each other a little bit more to be able to fight for a starting spot.”
One of the more striking solutions employed by Savarese, as he stated, is playing players out of position. Numerous times over the Cosmos’ first three weeks, players have needed to play roles they aren’t exactly used to: Andres Flores was a false nine at MCU Park, Danny Szetela played on the wing in Miami, and Darrius Barnes filled in at right back before Ryan Richter’s cross. While appearing on the surface as just an attempt to cover for missing players, Savarese is actually taking an ingenious approach to building a squad that can succeed in 2017. In building chemistry, he’s also building players individually by diversifying their skills.
“There are two things. One is to put the best team out there to achieve the goals for the game. The second is we’re seeing that maybe guys can give us a little more for our needs right now. If we have more versatility, we can plan towards a stronger group. If you know guys can give you something in different positions, we can adapt or change during matches.”
In building his team, Savarese has received a blessing from an unlikely source: a bye week between the club’s win in Miami and the impending visit by league leaders Jacksonville. As always, Savarese has relied heavy on his training sessions, a part of his managerial arsenal that always appears to go underappreciated when assessing his skills at the helm of the New York Cosmos.
“We focused the first week on a small preseason: strengthening the legs and working on being more dynamic. From the second week on, we worked on the weekend and preparing on the matches. Now we have two more tactical sessions, tomorrow and Friday, and then we’ll be prepared for the match.”
“As always, we’re taking it one step at a time, but we feel approaching better fitness as a team and a better understanding of what we need from the players. Now they can move more freely like we want to move them to.”
At the end of the day, Savarese remains encouraged by the distance between where the Cosmos are currently, and where they can be.“I think I’m most encouraged by the potential for growth that the team still has. We are not even close to reaching the top potential we have. They’re still understanding each other, they’re still fighting for positions, we’re still finding the right system. We’re still moving in the right direction in order to find recipe to make the best potential of the group.”
“Everywhere needs improvement, but everywhere there has been improvement.”