TUCSON, Ariz. – Wilfried Zahibo’s second preseason appearance with the New England Revolution went significantly smoother than his first.
Sent off just eight minutes into his debut on Wednesday against FC Dallas, Zahibo wasn’t even sure he’d be allowed to feature in Saturday’s meeting with San Antonio FC, as Mobile Mini Sun Cup tournament rules seemed to dictate that he’d be required to serve a one-game suspension.
Ultimately, though, it was determined that Zahibo wouldn’t need to serve a suspension – it is preseason, after all – and the 24-year-old newcomer was consequently handed another start in central midfield, playing 70 minutes in the Revolution’s 3-3 draw with San Antonio.
While head coach Brad Friedel admitted that Zahibo, with just one week of training under his belt, showed his fatigue in the second half when the Revs conceded a pair of goals in quick succession, he felt his first-half performance was indicative of what the imposing central midfielder brings to the table.
“I thought in the first half, he was very good, when he wasn’t tired at all,” Friedel said. “He was demanding the ball and he was very good with the ball. He was also being able to break up plays.
“When he hit about the 55th-minute mark, he started to tire, and then we pushed him on about another 15 more minutes from that, which is exactly what we wanted to do.”
Zahibo spent his entire 70-minute shift alongside Scott Caldwell, who was impressed with his newest teammate’s ability on the ball, particularly throughout the opening 45 minutes when the Revs turned a dominant stretch into a 3-1 halftime lead.
“He was excellent,” Caldwell said of Zahibo. “He’s great on the ball. He’s great defensively. It’s easy to play with someone like him. He’s someone that I’m going to keep trying to work with, and try to improve my game just by playing alongside him.”
Zahibo now has two more weeks – and two more preseason matches – to continue building his fitness, and Friedel is confident that he’ll be at full strength by the time the Revs open the regular season against the Philadelphia Union on March 3 at Talen Energy Stadium.
“I was very pleased with Wilfried,” Friedel said. “I think everyone – all New England fans – will be pleased with him when they see that he gets his full fitness and the way that he’ll be able to be that number six for us.”