WASHINGTON, D.C. – The future is now for the New England Revolution, which made club history on Saturday night at Audi Field by starting three players aged 18 or younger for the first time in their 2-1 win over D.C. United.
Esmir Bajraktarevic (18), Noel Buck (17), and Jack Panayotou (18) made up 75 percent of the Revolution’s starting midfield along with 29-year-old veteran Matt Polster, and the trio earned praise from coaches and teammates alike as they helped the Revs move to 4-1-0 (12 pts.) and first place in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s incredible,” DeJuan Jones said of the three Academy products. “They’re out there, they’re confident. You couldn’t tell their age if you’re just watching the game not knowing anything, and they’re continuing to get better each and every day.
“With these guys playing like this, it’s going to push everyone on the team to up our level in training, and it’s going to make it harder on Bruce [Arena] to decide on who is in the starting lineup, who is on the bench. So, great performance from all three of them tonight, and I’m looking forward to more from them.”
Buck, who is the youngest of the group with his 18th birthday still 10 days away, has now started all five of the Revolution’s games this season and has garnered consistent praise from around the league. Bajraktarevic, who turned 18 just two weeks ago, made his first appearance of 2023 on Saturday night after making one MLS start last season, and Panayotou logged his MLS debut at Audi Field.
“We’ve seen these guys all year and they’ve been good,” said Arena. “We knew we were going to give them an opportunity. Noel, I thought, played a complete game and I think for the first 60 minutes, he was probably our best player. So, really encouraging to see the contributions those guys gave us today.”
Bajraktarevic, Buck, and Panayotou all came through the Revolution Academy system, with Panayotou leading the Under-19 team to an MLS NEXT Cup championship just last summer before signing a Homegrown deal in January after one season at Georgetown University. All three also earned their first professional minutes with Revolution II before making the leap to MLS.
That journey culminating with the trio starting together in the Revolution’s midfield is just the latest example of the club’s pro player pathway functioning exactly as intended.
“They certainly did,” Arena said when asked if the youngsters had earned his trust. “They all had good preseasons.”
As if to complete the storyline, Buck capped the night by scoring the game-winning goal in the 88th minute, blasting home a deflected shot from the top of the box and marking a second career goal for the kid from Arlington, Mass.
“He continues to grow physically, which is impressive, as is his tactical understanding,” Arena said of Buck. “His first touch is very good. He’s got an excellent work rate. He’s become a real good player.”