Giacomo Vrioni, a 23-year-old regular with his senior national team who was changing clubs, had a huge decision to make this summer.
No longer a rising talent but entering the early part of his prime, Vrioni was set to leave Juventus after never quite breaking into the first team at one of Italy's premier clubs. This next destination would determine the course of the most important years of his career and alter the trajectory of his arc.
Thankfully for the Albanian international, scoring a boatload of goals while on loan in 2021-22 at Austrian Bundesliga side WSG Tirol gave him plenty of options. Amid it all, Vrioni opted for the New England Revolution, officially joining July 5 as their third Designated Player. He arrives on a $3.8 million fee, per a source.
"I had a lot of teams [try to sign me] at the end of the season, but I had a call with the coach and a call with a lot of people here and I feel comfortable," Vrioni told media Tuesday during a virtual press conference. "I saw that they believe a lot in me, and this for the player is very important, and 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."
Bruce Arena, New England's head coach and sporting director, carried sway. Vrioni knew of his "big coach" and his past with the US men's national team.
"He had an outstanding goal-scoring record this year in the Austrian league and we did make note of the fact that a number of players that have come from that league in MLS have done well," Arena said earlier this month, alluding to offseason signings – D.C. United's Taxi Fountas and Orlando City SC's Ercan Kara – after their exploits at Rapid Vienna.
New No. 9
Vrioni, who described himself as a "classic No. 9", fills both the DP spot left open by Polish international Adam Buksa (transferred June 7 to Ligue 1's RC Lens) as well as the need to add goals. His 19 goals scored last year tied for the Austrian top-flight lead, and he's been capped six times by Albania after representing Italy on the youth circuit.
While Buksa's departure is important to fill, the Revs have struggled more in defense than attack, even without Buksa, thanks to reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Carles Gil and forward Gustavo Bou, their other DPs. New England seemed to get things back on track after an early-season swoon that included a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal exit at Liga MX's Pumas, but have since gone on a five-game winless run and stagnated to 10th place in a clustered Eastern Conference table.
"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," Vrioni said.
Last season, New England set a new league record for regular-season points (73) en route to winning their first-ever Supporters' Shield. They then lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs to eventual champions New York City FC.
This year, it's a retooled team, with Vrioni the latest key addition. As for Vrioni's future, he's got plenty of time to return to Europe at a higher level, should his time in MLS progress as he hopes. He's signed through the 2025 MLS season with an additional one-year club option.
“It will be an important step for me," Vrioni said. "Like what the coach 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."
"Now that I'm here, I will concentrate to play here, to do all the things that my coach is asking me, and I will try for sure to help the team and to score goals because this is my goal," Vrioni said. "For the future, I don't know now. I’m concentrating on the present. This is an amazing team, an amazing family, so I will give everything here.”
Other key signings
Vrioni continues New England's attempts to replace key outgoing players after Buksa (to Lens), Canadian international winger Tajon Buchanan (to Belgium's Club Brugge) and US international goalkeeper Matt Turner (to England's Arsenal) have all departed in the last seven months for a combined reported $24 million in transfer fees.
In their place, Arena and his staff have brought in Vrioni, U22 Initiative winger Dylan Borrero (from Brazil's Atletico Mineiro) and goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic (from Serbia's FK Cukaricki). Borrero, age 20, is from Colombia and Petrovic, age 22, is from Serbia.