The Albanian international, signed July 5 from Italian powerhouse Juventus as a Designated Player, just joined training this week and last played 90 minutes in a late-May Austrian Bundesliga match during his loan to WSG Tirol. The 23-year-old also played over an hour in an international friendly in mid-June against Estonia.
Given all those factors, and the spectacular form DP striker Gustavo Bou finds himself in (seven goals in his last eight games), New England are taking it slow and steady with their new No. 9.
“He's going to be able to give us some limited minutes in the short-term, and I think by mid-August he's going to play some significant minutes. And then hopefully by September he's really ready to go,” Arena said in his weekly 98.5 The Sports Hub interview.
“We'll just have to see. You can never tell with these things, but I think in a short period of time he's going to be okay. The fact he's 23 years old helps. He comes around a lot quicker. He doesn't have this issue of injuries, so I'm optimistic we can get him going at full speed in a short period of time.”
Vrioni is New England’s latest like-for-like addition this season after transferring out a reported $24 million combined worth of players who are on track to play in the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic has replaced US international Matt Turner (now at England’s Arsenal), U22 Initiative winger Dylan Borrero has replaced Canadian international Tajon Buchanan (now at Belgium’s Club Brugge) and Vrioni replaces Polish international Adam Buksa (now at France’s Lens).
Standing 6-foot-2 and arriving at a similar career juncture that Buksa did, Vrioni landed in Foxborough following a reported $3.8 million transfer fee.
“I don't like comparing one player to another, but there are similarities to Buksa,” Arena said. “He's left-footed, he's a goalscorer, he's physically strong. He wants to score goals, which is a positive.
“I think once he gets acclimated to our team and the league, he's going to be good. Like any player, it's going to take a little bit of time but I think by the time September comes around he's going to be in good form.”
Best to come?
As Vrioni gets acclimated, the 2021 Supporters’ Shield winners sit two points beneath the Eastern Conference’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line with 14 regular-season games remaining. It’s crunch time in some respects, Arena said, as they try to corral the Crew’s dynamic duo of Cucho Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan this weekend.
“We're at a point now, to be honest with you, [where] every game matters,” Arena said. “We got to start getting some points in the point column.”
The 10th-place Revolution, who set an MLS single-season record for points (73) last year, lead the league in points dropped from a winning position (24). They’ve experienced a decidedly different campaign in 2022, but Arena is optimistic their best days are ahead – perhaps mimicking a late-season surge like their 2020 playoff run.
“I've been fortunate to be part of five teams that won MLS Cups, and if I'm not mistaken, three or four of those teams were not near the top of the conference during the regular season,” said Arena, who is MLS’s all-time winningest coach.
“So the lesson I've always learned is to have your team at its best toward the end of the year. And hopefully, that's going to be the case. That's certainly not an excuse for our first 20 games as well.”