SANDY — Jefferson Savarino got off the plane from Maracaibo, Venezuela on Sunday night in Salt Lake City, and by Tuesday, he was training with his new club at Real Salt Lake.
He breathed a sigh of relief after meeting with a few reporters through a translator, then walked to his ride.
“They’ve brought me in well and I’m happy to be here,” Savarino said in Spanish marked by his native Maracucho dialect. “I see in this team a family; they’re united and communicate well. That is what will make us strong in every position.”
There were few bigger sighs than the one that came from one of the men responsible for bringing the 20-year-old Zulia FC product to the Salt Lake Valley.
Andy Williams was an original member of Real Salt Lake’s midfield, playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah and paying dues before the team’s 2009 MLS Cup victory.
Since retiring in 2011, Williams worked briefly with former coach Jeff Cassar’s staff as a midfielders’ coach in 2014 — but he quickly found his true calling: scouting.
In Savarino, the club’s head scout has put to rest a two-year long process of work. He first targeted the winger at the CONMEBOL U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament in 2015, and saw a potential star among the likes of Joao Plata, Yura Movsisyan and (most recently) Albert Rusnak.
“The last couple of years, he’s been in the first division of Venezuela and the Copa Libertadores, playing against grown men — and he’s still doing the same he was doing with the U-20s,” Williams said of Savarino. “He’s very gifted with the ball, super quick, and he likes to shoot, score and create chances.”
Scoring has been a hot commodity recently for RSL. The club is coming off back-to-back 3-0 losses to Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas, and is tied with D.C. United for the second-fewest goals in MLS play to date.
Savarino, who earned the nickname “SavaGol” with his 22 career goals and 12 assists in Venezuela, will occupy a Young Designated Player spot on the club’s roster while moving Joao Plata off the designation through the use of the league’s targeted allocation money. The transaction is listed as a one-season loan through December 2017 with an option to buy.
With the move, 12 players on RSL’s roster are age 23 or younger as the club makes an overt youth movement.
His former team’s website calls him “the most in-form player in Venezuela soccer.”
“He’s an exciting young player,” RSL coach Mike Petke said of Savarino, who could be available as early as Saturday at New England. “He’s extremely fast, fit, active, a goal scorer and he’s creative. And at 20 years old, he’s in the mold of Brooks (Lennon) and Bofo (Saucedo), giving us an incredible option, both wide and centrally.”
Williams agreed that Savarino’s best position at Salt Lake may not be immediately available; he’s been known to drift high, wide and centrally in several formations for Zulia FC, a club founded in 2005 that ascended to Venezuela’s first division in 2008.
“He can play numerous positions,” Williams said. “He can play as a second forward, out wide, and he can even be in the middle alongside Albert (Rusnak). The options where he can play are high-end attacking; he’s comfortable around the goal, creating chances, and I’m glad he’s here.”
Savarino’s first availability may come Saturday, but it may also wait as RSL prepares for three games in eight days against New York City FC and Seattle Sounders FC. The cross-continental trek of Major League Soccer and artificial turf fields like the one on which the Revolution play are extra considerations for Savarino’s first-team debut.
But with a limited roster due to injuries (and one made more limited by call-ups of Danny Acosta, Justen Glad, Lennon and Saucedo to the U.S. U-20 national team for World Cup duty), it’s safe to assume the winger’s first-team debut will come sooner rather than later.
“The good thing about him is he played his last game six days ago,” Petke said. “We don’t need to acclimate him physically; it’s more about getting the jet lag out of him, introducing him to the guys, and being familiar with how we play. We’ll take it from there.”
Of course, Savarino wants to play. But he is also under no pressure to immediately get results, either.
“I’m just happy to be here,” he said in Spanish. “I think this is a great team, and every year, it’s been growing. I’m happy to train the hardest I can so I can help the team.”
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