Giovanni Savarese #2, Timbers vs. Rapids. 7.13.19
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

What We'll Remember | When the players, fans gave their hearts to Gio

A week ago, this looked like the easy one. It was anything but. Seven days after a 1-0 victory at New York City FC and three days after a victory at Los Angeles FC by the same score in the U.S. Open Cup, the Portland Timbers were given a few reminders about life in Major League Soccer, if not soccer in general. Those reminders meant the Timbers left Providence Park’s field with only one point after a 2-2 draw against visiting Colorado.

“They’re a difficult team, and obviously, we’ve had a long week,” goalkeeper Steve Clark said, afterward, “but we’re pretty disappointed not to get three points at home.”

Reminder one was the quality of the league. Colorado came into Saturday’s game last in the Western Conference thanks to a start to the season that left them 0-7-2 after nine games. Since then, the Rapids are 5-3-3, with the third draw coming against arguably the form team in Major League Soccer. Within the span of four days, Portland went from winning at the league’s table setters to dropping points at home to a formerly 12th-place foe. It’s the type of swing “any given Sunday” clichés are made of.

Reminder two was the nature of the game itself. Early injuries. Own goals. Saves denying sure scores. Red cards. Penalty kicks. Bombs from distance. Players playing out of position at the final whistle. Not to steal from Stephon, but on Saturday night, this game had it all – a huge reason why the score was level come the final whistle.

The game also had emotion, with news prematch announcing the passing of Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese’s father, Carlo. Riposa in pace, the sign behind Portland’s bench read, with the celebrations after the night’s opening goal showing where the Savarese family was in players’ hearts.

That will be What We Remember most from Saturday’s game. But when those memories come to mind, we’ll also recall the slew of obstacles Portland faced on the field.  

Challenge, after challenge, after challenge

The first sign it wasn’t their night came early, when left back Marco Farfan hobbled off with a left-knee injury. Even after Portland scored first through a fortunate own goal, Colorado responded within a minute. That was sign number two.

The third sign may have been how the rest of the half played out, with the Rapids’ ability to break on the counter giving them the best chances on goal. It’s never a good sign when, going into halftime, your goalkeeper was your most valuable player, but were it not for a couple of huge saves from Clark, Portland would have went into intermission down.

The signs kept coming in the second half, from Julio Cascante’s 55th-minute red card to the team having to play two central midfielders at fullback at various points of the period. Although Portland went up a goal before Sam Nicholson equalized in the 76th, the barrage of obstacles made 2-2 feel like a good result.

“They’re much, much better and much different from earlier in the season,” defender Zarek Valentin said after the final whistle. “Kudos to them, but I’m happy with our performance toward the end to gut this one out.”

The Timbers had their share of luck, too. Tommy Smyth gifted the hosts the opening goal. A penalty led to their second. Portland can’t complain that nothing went their way. In the things that broke for Colorado, though, the team faced significant challenges.

Steve Clark, over and over

What you don’t see in the video, below, is what came before – the moments when, bursting out of their own end, Colorado looked destined to score.

Forward Kei Kamara picked up the ball just inside his own half and had the Timbers’ defense where he wanted: with a runner on his left, a runner on his right, giving him two flanks to choose from. By the time Jonathan Lewis tracked down the ball played left, multiple Rapids were behind the Portland defense, leaving Clark to defend a two on none.

When Lewis played across the face of goal for Andre Shinyashiki, Colorado seemed to have both posts to choose from. Yet somehow, Clark kept a second goal off the board:

The second save may have been better than the first, with Kamara’s header challenging Clark to set up and explode back the way he came. If there were still any doubts as to why Clark is Portland’s starter, he answered them in that moment.

Amazingly, there were more highlights. Pushing a ball around his lower-right corner in the 45th. Closing out Nicolas Mezquida in the 75th. It may be unclear what happened on Nicholson’s goal, with Clark left flat footed by the winger’s shot, but around that moment, the Timbers’ `keeper gave another stellar performance.

“I’m leaving my true self on the field, and I’m not going to stop,” he said, postgame. “I feel in form, and I’m not afraid to say that. I’m ready to go.”

With Gio in their hearts

Wednesday’s victory at LAFC had already given the team a chance to show their coach how they felt. In the wake of Saturday’s news, though, the team wanted to give more. That’s why the celebrations after the night’s opening goal took place on the sidelines with Savarese, in front of the Timbers’ bench. Just like the mid-week win, that one was for Gio.

After the match, it was the fans’ turn, with much of the North End staying after the whistle to share their condolences with the coach. They rang out in a chant, “Gio, Gio,” with the bouquet of white flowers that had adorned the victory log presented to him as he left the field.

“I was thinking how fortunate I am to have such a great group of people supporting me, trying to make sure this night was special,” Savarese said, when asked about his thoughts in that moment. “It was very difficult waking up this morning, knowing the news. Having their support, chanting, seeing the different message for my father, it was a special night …

“This stadium. This organization. These fans. These players. The staff that I have. It’s unbelievable. The environment and tonight, everybody gave me a little something to feel better, for sure.”

Almost all of us will feel that pain in our lives: the pain of losing a father. For so long, we think about it, imagining how our lives will change when that day finally comes. Savarese had time to prepare for the moment, but how can anybody truly cope? Unless you've been there, it's impossible to imagine how he feels.

Whatever pain the Savareses are going through, Providence Park made sure Giovanni felt loved. From the field to the stands, the Timbers family showed how close their coach is to their hearts.