JAMAICA, N.Y. – Esmir Bajraktarević had a pretty good idea he’d be making his first team debut on Wednesday night in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup even before he was announced as the New England Revolution’s ninth Homegrown Player signing late Monday afternoon.
The 17-year-old midfielder was on the road with Revolution II for this past Sunday’s meeting with FC Cincinnati 2, and while he was in the starting XI for the MLS NEXT Pro match, he played just 45 minutes, a solid indication that they were saving his legs for a first team debut midweek. It wasn’t a given, of course, but it was enough for Bajraktarević to begin mentally preparing for the possibility.
“They told me I would probably be playing in Open Cup, but it’s not for sure,” Bajraktarević said. “I still had to do well in training and everything. So in training, I did my best to get my spot for this game. Mentally, I think I was trying to stay calm. I wasn’t trying to think about it too much, just trying to treat it like another game. But yeah, it was definitely great to get one.”
Wednesday night’s debut was surely the first of many first team appearances for Bajraktarević, who this past January was the youngest player in the United States Under-20 Men’s Youth National Team camp. He played 67 minutes in an advanced midfield position on Wednesday and recorded the Revolution’s best chance of the night, steering a header on target from a Justin Rennicks cross late in the first half.
Although the Revs ultimately suffered a 1-0 loss to New York City FC in extra time – bowing out of the Open Cup at the Round of 16 – it was unquestionably a successful debut for Bajraktarević, who admitted that he still has plenty of developing to do in the coming years.
“I think definitely the defensive side of things,” Bajraktarević said when asked about the differences between MLS games and MLS NEXT Pro. “You can’t take a second off. You can’t switch off, because they’ll take advantage. You have to stay switched on, on the defensive side of things, for sure. I think everything is just quicker.”
MLS roster regulations dictate that Bajraktarević won’t be eligible to feature in league competition until August, one year after he joined the Revolution Academy. In the meantime he has a tremendous opportunity to continue gaining valuable experience with Revolution II, while building off the foundation laid with his Open Cup debut.
“I was really excited,” Bajraktarević said. “Obviously there [were] nerves at the beginning. I kind of settled down after a couple of minutes. Obviously, it wasn’t the result we were looking for. Overall, I think it was a good debut. I had some good moments, some bad moments. It was definitely a learning experience.”