FOXBOROUGH — MLS teams have opened the doors to Italian players this season, Giorgio Chiellini going to Los Angeles FC and three national teamers to Toronto FC.
The Revolution joined the festa by signing striker Giacomo Vrioni, who participated in his first practice with the team Tuesday and will be eligible to play against the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
Unlike his countrymen, all veterans of several Serie A seasons, Vrioni is in the early stages of his career. He will be expected to follow the path of Polish forward Adam Buksa, who joined the Revolution on a $4 million transfer in 2020 and moved to RC Lens in France on a $10 million deal in May.
For Vrioni, the Revolution’s interest came as a surprise. He performed mostly under the radar before Juventus acquired him on a $4.5 million transfer from Sampdoria in 2020. At Juventus, Vrioni mostly played on the U-23 team but got into two Serie A matches as the Bianconeri won their ninth successive title.
Last season, Vrioni went on loan to WSG Tirol, where he tied for the Austrian Bundesliga lead with 19 goals. The Revolution paid $4 million for Vrioni, 23, the third player coach Bruce Arena has acquired this season (after 22-year-olds Djordje Petrovic and Dylan Borrero).
“When they contacted me, I talked with [Arena] and a lot of people that work here,” Vrioni said Tuesday. “They believed in me, they saw a lot in me. They made me feel like I would be an important player so it would feel very rewarding for me being here. They believe in me, there is a really ambitious project going on here, and the league is growing every year.
“I saw Adam Buksa score a lot of goals and then go to Europe — so I’m focusing on giving everything for this team and, obviously, trying to score goals.”
Vrioni recalled following Italy’s national team growing up in Le Marche, on the Adriatic Coast, when the Azzurri played to a 1-1 tie with the Arena-coached United States in the 2006 World Cup. Vrioni competed for Italian junior national teams but in 2018, while playing for Venezia, he switched to Albania and made his senior debut that year.
When he was 21, Vrioni joined Juventus. The next year, Vrioni joined Tirol as Juventus added Dusan Vlahovic and Moise Kean up front. Vrioni’s prospects for playing time would have been limited next season, and after performing mostly on loan for six teams in six years, he is hoping to settle in with the Revolution.
“Juventus was a great experience, important for my career, because I became more mature at Juve,” Vrioni said. “And I had the fortune to train with champion players and that helped me a lot, and I’m thankful for what they gave me.”
Vrioni, it turned out, has a connection to the Revolution via Walter Zenga, the team’s goalkeeper in 1997 and player/coach in 1999. Vrioni has known Zenga since playing for Sampdoria’s junior teams in 2015, when Zenga was head coach, and playing under him for Venezia in Serie B in 2018-19.
“He told me he played and coached here,” Vrioni said of Zenga. “He was a coach that believed in me. He helped me grow and I have great respect for him.”
Zenga and Giuseppe Galderisi performed for the Revolution in the early days of MLS, but the team failed to maintain an Italian connection. In fact, only Montreal and Toronto have seemed to consistently court Italian players, Sebastian Giovinco’s breakthrough in leading Toronto to an MLS Cup title in 2017 appearing to rekindle interest.
“It seems like a league with a lot of intensity, technical players, this team especially has a lot of very technical players, strong players,” Vrioni said. “I know it’s a league that grows every year and this was something I liked a lot and why I decided to come to Boston and help this team.”
The Revolution have struggled to replace Buksa, winger Tajon Buchanan, and goalkeeper Matt Turner this season, compiling a 6-7-7 (25 points) record. Vrioni, at 6 feet 2 inches, is slightly shorter than Buksa but has a similar style of hold-up play as a back-to-goal striker.
“Now that I’m here, I will concentrate to do all the things 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. “And 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.
“It will be an important step for me. I’m not thinking about the future because the team invested a lot in me and I want to give everything back because it’s also my job and my passion to help the team, to score goals. I’m concentrating on what’s right now. I want to finish the season here and continue to score goals for this team.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.