FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Giacomo Vrioni was vacationing with his girlfriend in the Maldives when a 1 a.m. phone call from his agent altered the course of his professional career.
That call brought news that the New England Revolution were interested in bringing Vrioni to MLS, where the 23-year-old striker would have a chance to continue his development and showcase himself on a larger stage after leading the Austrian Bundesliga with 19 goals this past season. Sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena wanted to speak with Vrioni about his plans for him in New England and the direction of the club, and the player eagerly took the call.
It didn’t take long for Arena to convince Vrioni to pack his bags and prepare for a move to the U.S.
“I saw that they believe a lot in me, and this, for the player, is very important,” Vrioni said on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after completing his first training session with the team. “This is why I said directly yes to come here, because I saw that the coach believes a lot in me and also all of the team, all of the staff.”
It’s easy to believe in Vrioni, whose pedigree and past success would indicate he has everything it takes to be a quality player in MLS. He joined Juventus at just 21 years old, scored at a breakneck pace while on loan with WSG Tirol in the Austrian Bundesliga, and has already made six appearances for the Albania National Team. At 6-foot-2, Vrioni provides an aerial presence while also showing an ability to score with both feet, though he is predominantly left footed.
While the success of Adam Buksa – who also arrived at 23 years old and spent two-and-a-half seasons in New England before moving to RC Lens in Ligue 1 – helped entice Vrioni, he’s not thinking about his future beyond the Revolution. His only concern is settling in with the Revs and scoring goals.
“Like what [Bruce Arena] told me the first time that he called me, I think I agree with him that it will be a beautiful step for me, because I feel good here,” said Vrioni. “I’m not thinking about the future because the team invests a lot in me, and I want to give everything back because it’s also my job and my passion to help the team, to score goals, and like I said, I’m concentrating on what’s right now.”
What’s right now is getting acclimated to a new country, new league, and new teammates as quickly as possible, with just 14 games remaining in the regular season and the Revs currently sitting two points behind the playoff line in the Eastern Conference. But the adjustment process also can’t be rushed, and Vrioni understands that it will take time before he’s operating at full speed in MLS.
“I don’t put pressure on myself,” Vrioni said. “Of course, I push myself to give everything every day, to learn something from the coach, because I know that he’s a good coach – he trained also with the [United States Men’s] National Team, so I know which kind of coach I have.
“We have to try to start to win the games to go into the playoffs, because we have the opportunity to go there. I think we are a big team that plays good football, and we have to find the self confidence and maintain the calm to win the games.”
Part of the process for Vrioni will simply be adjusting to life in the U.S., as his arrival in Boston last Friday marked his first time on American soil. He’s only had a brief chance to explore the area, but his first impressions have been nothing but positive.
“It’s the first time and I like America. I like all the places. I like Boston,” Vrioni said. “I’ve been here since Friday, so I started to see a little bit of the city. It’s very nice, and I’m really, really happy to be here.”