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Savarese’s Timbers tenure and the battle to ‘right the ship’ in 2021

After a rocky start to the season and a show of faith from Merritt Paulson, will Giovanni Savarese turn results around and remain in charge of the team past 2021?

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The head coach hot seat that Giovanni Savarese is sitting on got even hotter on August 31, 2021, when Austin FC put three goals past the Portland Timbers for the second time in as many months. Sebastian Blanco said it best in his post-game interview with Jake Zivin, “Disappointed for the result, and disappointed for sometimes playing like this.”

The 3-1 loss came a week after the 6-2 demolition job the team suffered at the hands of their Cascadia rivals the Seattle Sounders and heavy criticism of the team’s poor defensive start to the season led some fans (admittedly, myself included) to question Savarese’s tactics and management of the team.

The negative discourse surrounding the club led to owner Merritt Paulson release an interview with Talk Timbers on Aug. 25, addressing his overall disappointment with the team’s performances in 2021, while placing his faith in Savarese’s ability to turn results around (at least for the time being).

The interview offered a lot to unpack for Timbers fans, especially Paulson’s comments about Savarese’s tenure with the club. “Our coaches, Gio, these are people who have a proven track record of success in our league. They have my confidence to right the ship.” After listening to the interview, my biggest question was “has Savarese done enough in his time as the Timbers head coach to be considered a success with the Timbers and retain his role as the head coach beyond this season?”

In an attempt to answer the question for myself, I wanted to look at Savarese’s record, statistics and accomplishments during his time as the head coach of the Portland Timbers.

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Savarese was announced as the Timbers’ head coach on Dec. 18, 2017, about a month after the team parted ways with previous head coach and 2015 MLS Cup winner Caleb Porter. Approaching 4 years with the club, Savarese’s notable records and achievements with the team are as follows:

  • Savarese has coached 137 games for the Timbers so far, winning 62 times, drawing 47 times, and losing 32 times. This equates to a win percentage of 45.26 percent.
  • Savarese’s teams have scored 225 goals and conceded 198 during his tenure at the club, for a positive goal difference of 27 goals.
  • The Timbers reached MLS Cup Final with Savarese at the helm in 2018, his first season at the club, before ultimately losing 2-0 to a superior Atlanta team.
  • The Timbers were knocked out of the MLS Cup Playoffs in the first round by Real Salt Lake in 2019 and by FC Dallas in 2020, losing 2-1 and on 7-8 on penalties, respectively.
  • In 2020, Savarese won the MLS is Back Tournament with the Timbers.
  • So far during the 2021 MLS regular season, the Team’s record stands at ten wins, ten losses, and three draws through 23 games, scoring 32 goals and conceding 39 in the process.

So, based on his tenure so far, do I think Savarese has done enough for his time with the Timbers to be considered a success?

To be honest, the jury is still out, at least until the end of the season. For instance, if the Timbers make a push during the remainder of the 2021 MLS season and secure a playoff spot, but suffer another first-round loss? I’m not sure that an MLS Cup runner-up medal and a glorified pre-season trophy are enough to warrant three consecutive first-round playoff exits. In my opinion, the team has to make a deep playoff run this season for Savarese to warrant another season as the head coach.

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Having said that, Savarese and the Timbers are showing early signs of ‘righting the ship’ and repaying the faith Paulson placed in them in his interview. Since the 3-1 loss to Austin, the Timbers have posted three consecutive road shut-outs, highlighted by wins in Seattle and Vancouver. If the team can build on these performances, secure a playoff spot, and make a lengthy run to MLS Cup, I’d wager it to be enough for Savarese to continue as the head coach of the team beyond this season.

As much as I’ve been critical of results this season, I want to give credit where it’s due. The fight shown throughout the last few performances has given me a boost of confidence in Savarese and the team’s ability as a whole. Long may it continue.