FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – As far as introductions go, Wilfried Zahibo’s was over practically before it began.
Signed by the New England Revolution in the offseason to alleviate the losses of Gershon Koffie and Xavier Kouassi, the French midfielder burst into the fray with excitement. Perhaps too much.
Safe to say Wilfried Zahibo doesn't shy away from a challenge. He gets a red card for this nasty challenge on Carlos Gruezo.— Jonathan Sigal (@JonathanSigal) February 14, 2018
It'll still be 11 vs. 11, which is the right decision considering it's #MLS preseason. Diego Fagundez on for Zahibo. #NERevs pic.twitter.com/KhyOmvOXQb
“The first game, I was very excited to start with New England and then I play only eight minutes,” Zahibo recalled to MLSsoccer.com. “But this is only part of the story. It’s better to start bad and be better more and more as I progress.”
As he noted, the 24-year-old has come a long way since that dark moment, cementing himself as an integral part of Brad Friedel’s project in New England. He’s started all eight of the Revs’ games in 2018, with a return of one goal and four assists.
Friedel expected this sort of impact from Zahibo, despite some wondering why the Revs used allocation money to sign a player with scant first-division appearances in previous stints with France's Ajaccio and at Spanish sides Valencia and Gimnastic.
“Other people’s opinions of why we sign players are irrelevant, with all due respect,” Friedel said. “He’s another player who’s come in and really immersed himself in the culture on and off the field. He comes out and applies himself in training and tries to improve like the rest of the team.”
Zahibo described himself as a leader “on the pitch with the ball and without the ball,” and said Friedel has made his role as New England’s No. 6 explicitly clear. Patrolling in front of center backs Jalil Anibaba and Claude Dielna, Zahibo has helped the Revs allow just eight goals in as many games, second-fewest in MLS.
“I was prepared for the moment of getting my chance here,” Zahibo said. “I’ve worked very hard before in different leagues, and when I came I was ready to take my opportunity and do my best here. The transition has been quick.”
Zahibo said his rapid adjustment to MLS has been helped by speaking English, French and Spanish. That’s allowed him to bond with American and South American teammates, plus Dielna, his fellow countryman.
Friedel, meanwhile, hopes Zahibo’s best days are ahead.
“We hope he’ll keep adding to his tally of very good games for the club, all in the hope that this team does one thing, and that’s win games,” Friedel said.