Attacker | Real Salt Lake | Venezuela
For MLS to continue to shed its old-fashioned and frankly lazy stereotype as a retirement for big European names looking for one last payday in the sun, talents such as Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino will be of massive help.
A skilful Venezuelan attacker who made his name with Zulia FC on the western shore of Lake Maracaibo, his rise to prominence after impressing in the Copa Libertadores prompted the Utah side to lure him to the Rio Tinto Stadium in May 2017.
Initially arriving in Utah on loan as a young Designated Player, his stunning form during his first few months (six goals and five assists in 19 starts) in the USA saw his club exercise their option to make it a more permanent arrangement, confirming his commitment to a multi-year deal in November 2017.
Clearly rated and backed in Salt Lake City, Savarino had everything available to him to truly kick on. Read on to see how he’s done exactly that.
2018 Has Been…
Rather impressive for Savarino.
While, clearly, the 22-year-old has an awful lot to learn, he became a real fixture in Mike Petke’s side as they battled their way to sixth position in the Western Conference and quarter-finals of the MLS Cup play-offs. Starting all 35 games of his games across the competitions in 2018, culminating in 3,114 minutes played, he’s certainly one of the most important players out in Utah.
Though his production rate slowed in comparison to the first few months on American shores, 7 goals and nine assists during the campaign underline his attacking threat. Still, while it’s easy to get carried away with statistics, one of the most important moments for him in 2018 came in a 30-yard sprint towards his own goal.
One of the criticisms levelled at the former Zulia man had been around his strength on the ball. Often allowing opposition defenders to dictate how much he would see of it, it was the visit of FC Dallas back in July that truly indicated his progression as a top MLS talent.
During what was a big week for his side - having beaten Sporting Kansas on the Saturday before the Wednesday game (during which he also scored) - Savarino’s assist wasn’t the only thing to shout about.
A much stronger attitude saw the player deal with the physical side of the game better, protecting the ball well to help relieve pressure on his teammates. Indeed, as if that wasn’t impressive enough, the aforementioned gut-busting sprint to win a tackle in the dying embers of a tight win saw Petke describe his performance as ‘phenomenal’, proving the other side of his game was growing too.
Reward has come at international level as well. While he won his first cap in 2017, Savarino appeared in five of his country’s 2018 internationals, taking his total up to seven and can be seen as part of the nation’s new-look attack, alongside fellow MLS star Josef Martinez.
Though Salt Lake’s campaign did end in heartbreak after crashing out of the playoffs at the quarter-final stage in November, Savarino can look back on a successful 2018.
Clearly Savarino is in the best place he can be right now. Under a progressive coach such as Petke in a league where the quality is ever-improving, the recent investment behind the scenes in Utah point towards more of an upward trajectory for all parties involved.
Now, as La Vinotinto gear up for a Copa America in 2019, he must take the kind of form that’s made him such a key player in MLS as his country look to make a real impact in Brazil. If he can do that, then the sky really is the limit for Jefferson Savarino.