MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

What Giacomo Vrioni reveals about New England’s transfer revolution

Half a season after setting a en route to winning the 2021 Supporters’ Shield, the 2022 version of the New England Revolution looks vastly different than the one that walked off the field in last November's Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

Canadian international winger Tajon Buchanan departed in the winter following a previously agreed-upon transfer to Belgium's Club Brugge. US international goalkeeper Matt Turner just left this summer for English Premier League side Arsenal, and Poland international striker Adam Buksa exited a month ago for France's RC Lens. Three star players from that at-times-dominant team, gone for a reported combined $24 million in transfer fees.

As of Tuesday, with the acquisition of Albania international forward Giacomo Vrioni from Italian powerhouse side Juventus as their third Designated Player alongside Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil, New England have reloaded on the fly.

“This is new for the Revolution,” head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena told media on a virtual press conference. “I think we’re trying real hard to move the club forward. We realize we’ve been a little bit behind in a lot of areas, we’re trying to catch up.”

Serbian goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic has enjoyed a strong start to life in MLS after taking over for Turner, while Colombian winger Dylan Borrero has been a perfect fit in attack, providing a spark of dynamism the club desperately needed following Buchanan’s departure. Now, New England hope Vrioni can have the same impact when he debuts. They're aiming for mid-July, but it depends on whenever he gets his visa.

"Like all players, he will take a little time to make an adjustment to our league and our club and our country and city, but we think over time he's going to fit in here quite well," Arena said. Vrioni joins through 2025 with a one-year club option.

New England’s transfer … revolution

The Revs haven't necesarily been a development and selling-type club in the past, nor has Arena been viewed as that kind of manager. That is changing, though, with their top three outbound transfers – Buchanan, Buksa and Turner – coming this year. Previously, the Revs' other significant outbound transfer was USMNT all-timer Clint Dempsey's move to Europe, way back in 2007. That came 15 years ago, when MLS had 13 teams compared to its current 28 (and counting).

Increased participation in the global transfer pyramid is a league-wide trend, of course. And the Revs used it as a selling point in discussions with Vrioni.

"In the case of Giacomo and some of our previous Designated Players, we can sell them on the fact that we now have a history as a club where we develop players and move players on to Europe if that is their ambitions," Arena said. "I think that was the case with Adam Buksa when we brought him in, certainly will be the case with Giacomo. Matt Turner has now recently left, as has Tajon Buchanan."

The 23-year-old bounced around at various European clubs and instead of continuing his career elsewhere on the continent, Vrioni opted to come to MLS with the view of eventually returning to a higher level.

New England have also set new records for inbound transfers in the last few years. Vrioni, signed for $3.8 million, is their fourth-most expensive addition. All four players – Borrero, Bou and Buksa are the others – were signed in the last two years.

Off the field, the Revs’ facilities continue to improve with their $35 million training ground opening in December 2019. Before long, Arena hopes their Gillette Stadium days result in a new stadium.

"I think over the last year or two, we've done a better job with our everyday environment here, with our new training facility," Arena said. "Eventually, we're going to move into a new stadium, and I think that's going to help us with our visibility in our community and expanding our fan base, and that will one day make Boston, I think, a prime choice for many players around the world."

Vrioini's background and fit

With Buksa's likely transfer looming for months, New England long started their search for a new DP to put alongside Gil and Bou.

New England were intent to sign an attacking player, either a midfielder or center forward. They landed on Vrioini after a career year in the Austrian Bundesliga. He had 19 goals in the 2021-22 campaign while on loan at WSG Tirol, which tied him with Karim Adeyemi, a rising German international who just transferred from RB Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund, for the league lead.

"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.

The most recent example is Taxi Fountas, who has nine goals and three assists in 10 appearances with D.C. United since arriving from Rapid Vienna. Orlando City SC signed Ercan Kara from the same club this winter. Kara has seven goals and two assists in just under 1,100 minutes.

Vrioni, born in Italy, carries six caps with Albania's national team. He's primarily left-footed.

“He’s going to play as a striker, which was previously occupied by Adam Buksa,” Arena said. “I think he’s a good option in that position and gives us some strength there with Gustavo Bou and Jozy Altidore. We feel good about that.”

Vrioni is a few months too old to qualify as a Young DP, meaning the club cannot use more than one U22 Initiative slot this year. That’s currently filled by Borrero, who was signed in the spring from Brazil's Atletico Mineiro and has produced with immediate effect in the first team.

"Because you have a successful U22, [that doesn't mean] the next U22 would be successful as well," Arena said. "We think this is a player that can help us in the short term as well as long term, and that is why the decision was made. Personally, I don't believe that having three U22s is the way to go for where our club is right now.”