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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/New coach says Portland 'can compete for whatever it wants to compete for this year

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - SAVARESEThe first coach is remembered for a television commercial.

The second coach is remembered for lifting a young club to relevancy and for lifting the club's first MLS Cup trophy.

The third coach of the MLS-era Portland Timbers? Judging from his introductory news conference Monday, Giovanni Savarese is, at the very least, a quick learner.

As he tells it, the person cutting Savarese's hair over the weekend recognized he was not from the Rose City — not because of the Venezuelan's accent, but because he carried an umbrella.

"Next time, I'm not bringing the umbrella," he said, smiling.

Savarese wants to be known for more than haircuts in Portland. And, with a detail-oriented approach to the game — during 18 years as a professional player he wrote notes after training sessions, reviewing what he liked and didn't like — it sounds like he's ready for the challenge.

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, the 46-year-old Savarese was hired in mid-December to replace Caleb Porter, who parted with the club following his fifth season in Portland. Savarese has been involved in off-season roster decisions, including the recent acquisition of central defender Julio Cascante and moves that as of Monday had not been announced.

Among the many Savarese strengths listed by owner Merritt Paulson and by GM/President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson are his connections around the soccer world. For example, Paulson noted that the new coach called the massage therapist for the Cascante's Costa Rican club to ask about the player's personality.

"How he knows that guy, I have no idea," Paulson said.

Savarese also spoke with Darlington Nagbe before Nagbe's trade to Atlanta was announced.

"I know Gio would have liked to have coached (Nagbe), but understood the specifics of that situation," Paulson said.

Paulson said Savarese came to his first job interview with a scouting report as if he was preparing to coach against the Timbers. Savarese reviewed "what the team's strengths were and what he'd look out for. And then, frankly, what he'd be exploiting."

Savarese said the Timbers are positioned for success in 2018, describing the roster as "a solid group of players we can build on" while noting that some have room for improvement.

Wilkinson described the interview process — it began with a phone interview and included several in-person meetings — as "intriguing" and "educational."

"Full credit to Gio," Wilkinson said. "He challenged our thinking, challenged the way we were going, challenged our thought process on players. And yet there was the same vision. ... There was a very firm belief from him and a very firm opinion on how this club can continue to grow."

Savarese shares a preference for proactive, attack-minded soccer. And Wilkinson wanted a multilingual coach who can communicate with players from diverse regions. Savarese speaks English, Spanish, Italian and Portugese.

Savarese was a forward for parts of five MLS seasons in the league's formative years. His coaching career began as the head of youth development for the New York Red Bulls. He later served as youth academy director for the New York Cosmos before becoming that club's head coach and sporting director when the Cosmos joined the North American Soccer League, the second-tier league in the United States. Savarese guided the Cosmos to three league titles in five seasons and a championship-match loss last season.

The new coach has visited with Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Fanendo Adi and said he is impressed by their passion for the club. He will meet the rest of the team when training camp begins later this month.

Unlike many coaching changes, this one is happening for a club that finished atop the Western Conference last season before injuries caught up to it in the playoffs. It is a roster built to win now — unlike when the Timbers hired Porter and undertook a significant overhaul heading into the 2013 season.

Savarese feels he knows these Timbers, and MLS, well from studying games and from covering the league while working for ESPN on international broadcasts.

"What I can tell you is this club can compete for whatever it wants to compete for this year. ... It is a good team," Savarese said. "There's some more players that will be coming that will make the club deeper. But it's a team, a club that will come into the season to be a winning team."

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