7_23_22 Vrioni vs. Columbus

COLUMBUS, Ohio – New England Revolution fans got their first glimpse of Giacomo Vrioni on Saturday night, as the 23-year-old DP forward made his MLS debut with a 23-minute appearance off the bench in the Revolution’s 0-0 draw with the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field.

It was a whirlwind week for Vrioni, who landed in Boston last Friday afternoon, joined his new teammates on the training ground for the first time on Tuesday morning, and made his first matchday squad on Saturday, eight days after his arrival. He’s only had four training sessions with his new club, and head coach Bruce Arena was impressed with his newest signing under the circumstances.

“We didn’t expect to get a whole lot out of him,” Arena said of Vrioni, who had played just one competitive match in the last two months. “Putting him in with Jozy [Altidore], we thought having two strikers up there could help create a chance to maybe get us a goal and be in position to win the game, but I thought once Jozy went out, he did a good job holding balls up and competing.”

Arena said earlier this week that he expects Vrioni to play limited minutes in the short term, extended minutes by mid-August, and be fully up to speed by September, just as the MLS Cup Playoffs are approaching in October.

“He did his job, but he is weeks away from being fully fit,” Arena said. “To be able to do what he did tonight with just a couple days of training is pretty good.”

Saturday night’s match didn’t present the easiest task for Vrioni, as the Revs spent much of the evening defending resolutely against a Crew side that entered the game on an eight-game unbeaten run (4-0-4). And while the 6-foot-2 striker didn’t have an opportunity to display the finishing skills that made him joint top scorer in the Austrian Bundesliga last season, he did show an ability to deal with the physical nature of MLS defenders, and that could prove just as important.

“He’s energetic,” Matt Polster said of Vrioni. “You could see within the match that he’s willing to battle up top. In MLS, there’s big center backs, and you’re going to have to grind in moments. It’s not going to be easy. He took that on tonight and you could tell he wanted to go up against [Josh] Williams and [Jonathan] Mensah, and I thought he did really well.”

Vrioni’s full skillset will have the chance to shine as he has more opportunities to settle into the squad and build towards full fitness, with the next occasion coming next Saturday night when the Revs will host a Toronto FC side that rolled to a 4-0 win over Charlotte FC at BMO Field this weekend.

“He’s a really nice guy and he wants to work hard for this team,” said Polster. “I think once he understands the league, understands our team and our tendencies of certain players, I think he’ll gel really well with us.”