As I sit here trying to come up with ideas for this column, I am aware that there are 3 major Revolution talking points floating around the universe.  The first is the news that the Massachusetts State House of Representatives recently passed a measure that sure looks designed to help Robert Kraft build a Revolution soccer stadium in Everett.  If there’s fire to this smoke, the Revolution could be playing home games on the Mystic River, directly next to the Wynn casino.  Revs fans are all too familiar with stadium related disappointment, after years of failed bids, but if this takes off it could come together quickly.

The next big piece of Revs related news comes on the heels of another road loss on Saturday.  New England took a 1-0 lead at Philadelphia, only to shoot themselves in the foot after the 75th minute, conceding twice in quick succession.  It’s more dropped points in a season full of dropped points for New England.  In fact, according to Tom Bogert, no team has lost more points from a winning position in MLS than the Revolution.  New England has dropped a whopping 24 points after taking a lead up to this point in the season.

If the Revs were as good at holding leads as LAFC this year, they would have 49 points and sit top the table.

Instead of writing about those dropped points, I’m choosing to focus on the third piece of news to hit Foxboro this week.  The arrival of new Designated Player, Giacomo Vrioni.  What can Revs fans expect from the Italian/Albanian striker?

Vrioni is here to replace Buksa

If you’ve been paying attention to the Revs transfers this season, you’ll have noticed a trend.  New England has been a team somewhat in flux.  The sales of Buchanan, Turner, and Buksa to European clubs has left Bruce Arena with significant roster holes to fill.  Thus far, Arena’s strategy has been “like for like”.  With Tajon Buchanan’s departure, the Revs lost the speed and explosiveness that he brought to the wings.  Arena addressed this by adding dynamic Colombian winger, Dylan Borrero from Atlético Mineiro.  When Turner left for Arsenal, Djordje Petrovic signed from FK Čukarički to replace his shot-stopping prowess.

Now, likewise, it appears Bruce has gone like for like replacing Adam Buksa.  Both are strikers, but there are similarities that go beyond position.  Both Buksa and Vrioni came to the Revs at age 23 for about $4M in transfer fees after showing promise in Europe’s less esteemed leagues.  Buksa scored 7 goals, adding 4 assists, in 18 appearances for Polish club Pogon Szczecin in 2019.  His play earned him interest from Italian, French, and English clubs as a developmental prospect.  Likewise, Vrioni had a breakout season last year, scoring 21 times in 30 appearances across all competitions for WSG Tirol in the Austrian Bundesliga.  As a result he gained interest from Spain, France, Italy and Netherlands.

It appears that Vrioni and Buksa also share a desire to gain starting minutes in Europes top leagues.  They view the Revolution as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.  Buksa said as much when he arrived and set his focus on improving as a player.  Bruce Arena has implied the same is true of Vrioni.

“In the case of Giacomo” Arena said during a press conference, “we can sell [him] 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.  I think that was the case with Adam Buksa when we brought him in, certainly will be the case with Giacomo”.

Vrioni has a few appearances with Juventus but never quite made the leap to regular minutes.  In New England he will be able to develop his game while likely seeing the field each and every week.

Just don’t expect Buksa’s aerial dominance

While Vrioni shares many similarities with the recently sold Adam Buksa, he has a somewhat different profile.  This has also been the case with Turner’s and Buchanan’s replacements.  Petrovic is taller and rangier, but a bit less dominant on crosses than Turner.  Borrero is quick and clever on the dribble like Buchanan, but so far appears more likely to shoot from distance than to dribble through defenders into the box.

Where Buksa excelled was in his physical dominance in the air.  His 6’3″ frame and athletic abilities made him one of the most successful players in MLS at winning aerial duels.  While Vrioni is listed on the Revs website at 6’2″, he doesn’t appear to have the stature to fully replace Buksa’s proclivity for headers.

This is not to say he’s incapable of winning the ball in the air…

If anything, he seems to be more of a complete striker.  It’s somewhat difficult to find data on this, he appears to be fairly well rounded in the types of shots he scores.  Per transfermarkt, he scored 8 with his dominant left foot, 4 with his right, and 4 headers.  These are sprinkled in amongst a few PKs, tap ins, and long distance shots.

While Buksa was also proficient with his feet, he scored 14 of his 35 Revolution goals with his head.  That’s 40%, which is much higher than Vrioni’s ~20% with WSG Tirol.  Time will tell if that drop off in aerial win % is significant for the Revs.

Will he hit the ground running?

One way in which New England has been successful this season, is that the new signings have adjusted to the league relatively quickly.  Revs fans will certainly hoping that trend continues with Giacomo Vrioni.  Luckily, there is one sign to indicate that he may adapt quickly to MLS.

In the past few years, several players have been brought to MLS from the Austrian Bundesliga.  At the striker position Ercan Kara, Taxi Fountas, and Dejan Jovelic have all made the leap from Austria to the US.  On the whole, these players have all had some success in the early going.

The most impressive of the bunch is Fountas who played with Rapid Vienna before making the leap to DC United in April.  Since then he’s gone on to score 10 goals and add 3 assists in about 900 minutes of play time.  That’s over 1 goal per 90.  This includes a hat-trick against Orlando City, as well as a brace against (you guessed it) the New England Revolution.  His play this season has earned him an All Star call-up.

Kara also came over from Rapid Vienna this year, landing in Orlando in January.  His stats aren’t quite as gaudy as his former teammates, but he’s managed a respectable 7 goals and 2 assists in about 1,200 minutes.

Jovelic, meanwhile, joined the LA Galaxy after loan stints across Europe.  Similarly to Vrioni, he broke out in Austria, scoring 18 times in 34 appearances for Wolfsberger AC.  Since his arrival to MLS, he has struggled to find the field in place of Mexican superstar, Chicharito.  That doesn’t mean he hasn’t produced.  This season, he has scored 8 goals and added 2 assists in just 612 minutes.

This should give Revs fans a lot of hope that Vrioni will see similar success here.  Especially when they see this:

Goals/90 in Austrian Bundesliga per

This is the leaders in goals scored, per 90 minutes played, in the Austrian top flight last season.  Vrioni sits in second, behind only Karim Adeyemi (who is valued at $38.5M per transfermarkt).  You may also notice that he performed better in this regard, than both Kara (5th) and Fountas (8th).  Jovelic didn’t play in Austria this past season, but in 2020/2021 he scored at a rate of about 0.72 g/90, which would be good for 3rd on this list.

All that to say, there is hope for Vrioni to produce at a high MLS level.  Revs fans will hope that comes to fruition as New England tries to work it’s way back into the playoff places.

Photo credit: @MidnightRiders on Twitter
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