SAN ANTONIO – New England Revolution Homegrown star Esmir Bajraktarević says he is beaming at the prospect of making his full United States Men’s National Team debut.
The 18-year-old is currently away on international duty with the Stars and Stripes, as the youngest player in Gregg Berhalter’s 25-man roster, having earned his maiden call-up to the senior squad earlier this month.
One of only two teenagers in the camp, the playmaker is forging a name for himself as one of the country’s brightest young talents. Pushing for a spot in the Under-23s’ 2024 Olympic squad, he starred in October and November’s exhibition fixtures – his dazzling offensive displays rewarded with an elevation to the first team set-up.
Soaking up every ounce of experience ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Slovenia (3 p.m. ET on TNT, Telemundo, MAX, Peacock, and Universo), the youngster now cannot wait for the opportunity to step out for the USMNT for the first time, declaring he would savor every second of the achievement.
“It puts a smile on my face,” Bajraktarević said. “I'm really excited for it on Saturday.
“It was obviously great getting called in. I was really excited when I first got the call. It’s been really good so far. We’ve been getting closer as a group and getting to know a lot of new guys. It’s been a good experience so far.
“It’s been great playing under Gregg. I think he has big expectations of me and the whole team. We want to get a win on Saturday – that’s the main thing right now.
“Obviously, Slovenia will be a good test as well. The main thing is just getting the three points, but I'm really looking forward to the moment that I make my debut. It will be really exciting.”
The playmaker’s eager anticipation for this weekend’s contest will certainly have kicked up a notch after the youngster enjoyed another memorable moment in the Stars and Stripes jersey, netting his first senior goal in a warm-up scrimmage.
Locking horns with Argentina’s River Plate to build sharpness, Bajraktarević produced another exceptional individual performance, showcasing his creative spark by writing his name onto the scoresheet and bagging an assist in a 2-2 draw.
Thrilled to have taken his chance to shine, the midfielder said he thrived on the experience of first-team action – his efforts catching the eye of head coach Berhalter.
“It's really good,” Bajraktarević stated. “River Plate is a really good team, very physical, so it was a good test for us.
“Obviously, scoring is a great feeling. It was good. I would say the level was pretty good – it was really fast. I think it's good to prepare us for the game on Saturday. I think it was a really good experience for me.”
Sharing his thoughts on the youngster’s showing so far, head coach Berhalter noted: “The coaching staff has been really impressed with him, really impressed with his skillset.
“He's 18 years old, but he's got a strong mentality – very competitive, very aggressive on the ball; willing to do the work defensively – and he has coped really well with the environment.
“You would think that a young player – 18 years old – comes in and is shy, and is afraid to impose himself on the field, but this is the exact opposite of Esmir, and we think he's got a great future ahead of him.”
Bajraktarević’s transition into the senior set-up could not have gone much smoother, especially thanks to the help of a friendly and familiar face.
Revolution teammate DeJuan Jones, who penned a new four-year contract with the club on Thursday, is also in attendance, marking his fifth USMNT selection. Recalling memories of his own first senior camp (with former New England goalkeeper Matt Turner having offered a helping hand), the left back has taken Bajraktarević his under his wing – much to the teenager’s appreciation.
“It’s been amazing,” Jones said. “That is a throwback: me having Matt for my first camp, and Esmir having me.
“It's been great. I think Esmir and I's relationship has continued to grow, and especially over this time at this camp – every meal on our own, we've gotten together, and I've gotten to know him on such a deeper level.
“He’s such a talented player, and I'm excited that he got this opportunity. I'm excited for the game Saturday, so he can show everyone what we see every day in training at the Revs.
“I’m super happy for him. He's taking advantage of this opportunity, and I think it's going be a really big year for him as well.”
Grateful for the support of his Revs teammate and mentor, Bajraktarević agreed. “It's been great.
“I do know a lot of the guys here, especially from the U-23 camps. Obviously, I see DeJuan every single day throughout the season, so I know him as well.
“It’s been good getting meals with him every time we have a day off, or if we have meals on our own.
“It's good, and I'm excited to play this season with him. I think just building chemistry every day is good.”
An Academy and Revs II graduate, Bajraktarević’s rise to senior stardom is one of the Revolution’s greatest success stories.
Since signing for the club as a Homegrown Player in May 2022, the teenager (affectionately dubbed ‘the Milwaukee Messi’ by New England defender Henry Kessler) has clocked 16 MLS appearances, and bagged his first senior goal – a sensational Goal of the Season contender – in Leagues Cup action last year.
Enjoying the opportunity to reflect on his incredible journey during the offseason break, the attacking midfielder is immensely proud. With high expectations for the playmaker this year (further fueled by new Revs head coach Caleb Porter’s admiration, as well as a dedication to developing the club’s young talent), the 18-year-old believes his game could hit new heights in 2024.
“I think this offseason was a big thing for me,” he said, “especially going with the U-23s in November – just getting better every single day.
“Reflecting on this [past] season, I think I learned a lot – a lot of ups, a lot of downs. It’s been really good for me, and I'm excited for the next season for sure – I think it’s going to be really good.
“I had a conversation with Caleb, and I'm really excited to be playing under him. Everywhere he goes, he wins. He has the ‘winner’ mentality, and from what I've been hearing from the other guys, it's been really good in the training sessions so far.
“I'm really excited to go back to get into preseason with the guys, and to play under him. It's very promising, and I'm really excited. I've heard great things about him.”
Though Bajraktarević has been widely praised, and tipped for a brilliantly bright future, the Revs starlet is ensuring he remains grounded.
Asked of his long-term hopes, the teenager asserted he is not looking too far ahead – to a potential Olympic adventure or beyond, with the opportunity to represent his family’s native Bosnia and Herzegovina also still a distinct possibility.
“As far as the U-23 Olympic team, right now I’m just focused on Saturday, to be completely honest,” he continued.
“I’m looking forward to having a good season with the Revs, and it would be great to play in the Olympics as well.
“I haven't made my final decision on who I want to play for [at international level] yet. Right now, I’m still very young, and just keeping my eyes open to every opportunity in front of me, and just doing what's best for me.
“Obviously, Bosnia is very close in my heart – I speak the language, I grew up in a Bosnian household – so Bosnia is a big part of me. I haven’t made my decision yet.”