Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Jefferson Savarino has lived his life as a series of those first steps, faith guiding him from one stride to the next. From a very young age, he let God guide his path and now as the latest Real Salt Lake addition, he has used that same faith to navigate a tumultuous time in his native country while embarking on the next step to help his soccer career grow with a new club in a different country.
Born in Maracaibo in Venezuela, he is a soccer star raised in a city that produces baseball players like wildflowers. Childhood tragedy didn’t derail him from his dreams, though, but rather pushed him closer to his faith and narrowed his focus on reaching his potential on the pitch. And now he is inching ever-closer to that potential at Rio Tinto Stadium while his home country has been torn apart by a growing political divide that has brought violence to the capital city of Caracas and beyond.
However, that turmoil didn’t drive him away from the only home he’s ever known. Instead, it was his trust in faith and the desire to make career progress that drove his decision to come to MLS with Real Salt Lake.
“I trust in God. I trust that He can change everything and that He would have control of my family,” Savarino said. “And of course I came here to keep growing and to keep progressing in my career. And not just only that, but also to keep growing as a person. I’m very grateful to God for the opportunity that I have to be here today.”
The gratitude that Savarino openly proclaims at any opportunity is no mere lip service though. He lives his faith every day. And while he is far from his church in Venezuela – Impacto de Dios (God’s Impact) – he never lets his thoughts get far from his belief.
“When we’re at home we can look for God in our intimate places, in our room, in our living room, at any place in our home,” he said. “Of course He is always willing to listen to us. So it’s not just about going to church but also the church it’s in our hearts.”
Savarino grew up in a religious household, but early in his life he had that faith pushed to its limits. His parents separated when he was young and while his father was still part of his life, he was raised primarily by his mother. However, when he was 10 years old, his mother suffered a fatal heart attack. He and his three brothers moved in with an aunt. Already devoted to his faith, these trying times cemented his religious zeal.
“At that point my faith grew a lot more because I felt that He was there with me,” he said. “And I’m here today because I always push myself to stay focus, to never go astray.”
Driven to succeed, he joined his local club Zulia’s youth outfit at 14. In 2013, at just 16 years old, he joined the club’s U-20 team and he soon joined the first team and made a quick impact, scoring 22 goals with 12 assists in 48 Venezuelan Premier League matches.
Now on loan with Real Salt Lake, the 20-year-old is looking to continue his successful climb through the ranks. Through seven matches in two distinctly different roles as a winger and as a central attacking midfielder, he has two assists and has been consistently threatening in the offensive third. In 499 minutes, he has managed 18 shots and 10 shots on goal, averages of 3.25 and 1.8 per 90 minutes, respectively.
One reason for his quick adjustment has been a bilingual roster in RSL’s locker room. With several young players that speak both English and Spanish, he is able to have instructions quickly interpreted for him and is able to communicate well with many of his teammates even while making efforts to learn English.
“Of course that has helped me a lot,” he said. “On the field I have great communication with those that speak English and with those that speak Spanish. That doesn’t take away the desire to learn English. The club has assigned a teacher to help me learn English and that’s going to be very important to help me adapt much better.”
The only other time in his career that he spent this much time away from his hometown was in 2013 when he played in a youth tournament in Uruguay. In just two short months in Utah, though, he has already begun to adapt and earned his first cap with the Venezuelan National Team, coming on as a substitute in a friendly against the U.S. National Team at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The reception that he received in that match, as well as in his home debut with Real Salt Lake, made him feel welcomed.
“The ovation that they gave me when surprised me a lot, to be honest. I thank them for welcoming me in that manner,” he said. “When I was going to go in the field the fans stood up and started to clap, that motivated me a lot more because I felt at home.”