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How the Revolution could line up with Giacomo Vrioni in the starting XI

New England Revolution

Will it be a return to 4-3-1-2, or will Bruce Arena opt for a new system?

Giacomo Vrioni at Revolution training after arriving earlier in July. David L Ryan / Globe Staff

For Giacomo Vrioni, the new Revolution striker, it would have been completely understandable if his first days in New England were a bit overwhelming.

Vrioni, 23, is jumping to a new team midway through the MLS season while simultaneously experiencing his first visit to the United States.

“To be honest, this is my first time to America,” he admitted in his introductory press conference tuesday. “I like all places. I love Boston. I’ve been here since Friday, so I’ve started to see the city a bit, it’s very nice, and I’m really, really happy to be here.

But instead of being overwhelmed, it seems Vrioni is settling into his new surroundings. After a few days of training — and dinner in the North End – he is already showing flashes of the talent that led New England to sign the former Juventus striker to a Designated Player contract.

Expectations for Vrioni’s debut

“Seeing him in training today and a bit yesterday, he looks good,” right-back Brandon Bye described on Thursday. “[He] looks fit, looks solid and looks like a good service piece in the box which I’ll be glad to find.

Standing at 6ft 2in, Vrioni – who scored 21 goals in 31 total appearances while on loan at Austrian side WSG Tirol last season – promises to be a capable target up front for Bye and his Revolution teammates.

Bruce Arena echoed Bye, offering more on when (and where) he plans to play Vrioni.

“He’s a good player. He’s kind of what we thought we’d get,” Arena said. “He’s clearly a No.9, strong grip on the ball, good finisher. He’s going to need time to regain his fitness since he probably hasn’t played the game in, I guess, a few months, so it’s going to take a bit of time.

Asked about his potential debut in Saturday’s match against the Crew in Columbus (kick-off 7:30 p.m.), Arena suggested Vrioni would only be available on the bench.

“He hasn’t played for a while. If he is traveling with us and he is on the matchday list, he will only be available for a few minutes,” the Revolution coach explained.

With Arena downplaying the chances of Vrioni joining the starting lineup anytime soon, New England may not have to fully grapple with what his presence will mean for the rest of the squad. But any time Vrioni starts getting regular starts – which, as a Designated Player, will no doubt happen – it may force some tactical changes.

The potential return of 4-3-1-2

Arena routinely avoids discussions of tactics (particularly formations), but will be faced with a question when Vrioni – a traditional No.9 centre-forward – joins fellow goalscorer Gustavo Bou in the Revolution’s starting XI.

Even though former New England striker Adam Buksa only left for French club RC Lens (in a $10m transfer) in June, the Revolution haven’t featured a two-forward roster. since going 4-3-1-2 in a 3-2 loss to DC United on April 23 (when Buksa started alongside Justin Rennicks).

Since then, the team has worked from a lone striker formation (usually a 4-2-3-1), allowing for better balance on the pitch.

As was shown earlier in the season – particularly in the 3-0 Champions League collapse against the Pumas in Mexico City in March – a two-forward setup creates potential problems for the midfielder of the club. New England.

Carles Gil, the reigning MLS MVP, is more comfortable operating right behind the forwards in a true No.10 role. And while Gil is hardly a defensive liability, his natural positioning puts him more high on the ground.

The Pumas managed to dominate possession in the Champions League second leg, exploiting the inherent tightness of midfield in a 4-3-1-2, looping around New England players and ultimately creating a chance after luck in what became a memorable comeback. .

Defensive issues and a possible look ahead

Aside from the specific tactical issues of a 4-3-1-2 against other formations, the Revolution simply struggled to defend late leads all year. In 20 games in the MLS season, no Eastern Conference team has conceded more goals after the 75th minute (12) than New England.

Attempting to address this issue, Arena have consistently deployed a second midfielder alongside Matt Polster to help bolster their side’s defensive capability (a role most often filled by MLS veteran Tommy McNamara).

So what happens when Vrioni enters the mix? Which Arena player will he bench? Given Bou and Gil’s statuses (as fellow Designated Players who have played for the team since joining MLS), they will obviously remain starters.

Dylan Borrero, the 20-year-old Colombian winger signed earlier in 2022, has already shown himself to be a dynamic striker, and he’s unlikely to lose minutes anytime soon. That means it will either be Sebastian Lletget (another of the team’s attacking midfield options) or McNamara.

Both players provide value, although McNamara is more on the defensive side. Lletget, as talented as he is in possession, could end up being sacrificed from the starting line-up in order to allow Vrioni and Bou to play side-by-side up front without leaving Polster alone on the defensive end.

Will it be a 4-3-1-2 again, a 4-2-3-1 (with Bou falling in a wider position) or more of a 4-2-2-2?

How the Revolution could line up with Giacomo Vrioni in the starting XI

If it ends up being the latter, it could see McNamara and Polster provide a deeper backstop in midfield, with Gil operating from a wide midfield role and Borrero playing more like a classic winger. Bou, freed from having to play as a centre-forward (a space Vrioni will happily fill), could then play his natural dropping game in the spaces between the lines.

At their best, the Revolution might be able to emulate some of the team’s greatest successes of 2021, when a Buksa-Bou partnership showed the possibility of a two-forward system as the team established an MLS regular season record for points en route to the Supporters’ Shield wins.

But before Arena can explore what his best starting XI might be, he needs to start by simply getting Vrioni into the lineup. Only then can he fully address the team’s tactical issues and its underlying defensive issues.


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