PORTLAND — Portland coach Giovanni Savarese has a bit of history in big games against NYCFC, who face the Timbers in the MLS Cup final Saturday.
Savarese came to the Timbers in December 2017 after five seasons at the lower-tier New York Cosmos.
In 2015, the Cosmos downed NYCFC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. Tied at 2 after extra time, the Cosmos upset their New York rivals on penalties in a game dubbed the East River Derby.
In 2016, the Cosmos again beat NYCFC in Open Cup play.
Then last year, Savarese’s Timbers defeated NYCFC in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back tournament in the bubble in Florida.
Savarese, however, has never faced NYCFC is a game as consequential as Saturday’s MLS Cup championship at Portland’s Providence Park.
“I wish that I could tell you that every time you play a team, if you’ve been successful, it repeats itself. It doesn’t repeat itself, without having to do a lot of new work, a lot of new preparation,” Savarese said. “Teams change, teams evolve, teams have different players. And you need to be really prepared with your group to confront, especially this group of players that New York City FC has.”
The Timbers hold a 4-1-0 all-time advantage over NYCFC but the teams have never faced off in the playoffs. Portland joined the league in 2011 and NYCFC followed in 2015.
The Timbers, who won the MLS Cup in 2015 and in 2018 played in the final against Atlanta, finished this season as the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The team won 17 games, a franchise best.
Portland advanced to the final with a 2-0 victory at home over Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference finals, after a Thanksgiving Day victory over the top-seeded Colorado Rapids.
NYCFC downed the East’s top seed, the New England Revolution, on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the conference semifinals, before beating shorthanded Philadelphia 2-1 on the road Sunday.
“What we have done so far has been just amazing, but the biggest one is coming Saturday,” NYCFC coach Ronny Delia said. “Portland is a tough place. They have been in a final before, we haven’t, but we will do everything to get more energy into us before the game and get everything out because then we know we can beat anybody.”
Savarese was a long-time New Yorker, having come to the United States to play at Long Island University. A striker, he was drafted to play in Major League Soccer by the MetroStars, forerunner of the Red Bulls, where he played for three seasons.
A native of Venezuela, Savarese had an 18-year playing career in the United States and abroad. In addition to the MetroStars, he had stints with the New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes.
Under Savarese, the Cosmos were 65-26-44 in 135 regular-season games. In Portland, he replaced Caleb Porter, who unexpectedly resigned after the 2017 season.
Savarese said he’s not reflecting on his history as he looks toward Saturday’s game.
“We cannot live in the past. We need to live in the present and we have to make sure that we arrive to this game very prepared, ready to compete, ready to be able to understand what we need to do offensively, defensively, set pieces everything has to be understood and executed,” Savarese said. “And hopefully, we can get the result that we need in order to be able to win a trophy.”