FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution’s Leagues Cup clash against Querétaro FC may have ended in defeat, but it was a night Esmir Bajraktarević will never forget.
The 18-year-old Homegrown star and Academy graduate scored his first-ever goal for the senior team, netting a glorious effort from outside the box to equalize, turning his defender with a neat touch with his right foot before firing a sweetly-struck volley into the bottom corner with his left.
It was the magic moment the Revs needed to claw themselves back into the contest after Jaime Gómez’s opener, keeping hopes of progression alive. Though ultimately it would be Querétaro FC who earned a place in the last eight with victory in the penalty shootout, nothing could take away from the quality of super sub Bajraktarević’s outstanding effort.
Reflecting on a bittersweet night, the midfielder was delighted to have opened his goalscoring account, and proud of the way New England once again battled back to level at Gillette Stadium.
“It was a tough result, but I’m happy for my first goal,” he said. “I would have loved to get a win on my first goal but hopefully, we can get a win in our next game in MLS.
“We have a history of coming back from being down. This team has so much fight, we never give up. Anything is possible and I’m really thankful for the team.
“I think we started off poorly – we didn’t come out 100 percent – but we definitely turned it around, and we were dominating in the second half.
“I would say [the turning points were] obviously Djordje [Petrović] in goal, saving a lot of chances; then me and Tico [Damián Rivera] and Nacho [Gil] coming in [as substitutes] and combining, and controlling the game, I think was good.
“We just have to keep our heads high. We fought really hard.”
Asked to talk through his sensational strike, Bajraktarević could not hide the smile from his face.
In a bid to ignite a creative spark with the Revs trailing, the playmaker was introduced from the bench and set out to make an impact, achieving that feat with an impressive cameo display alongside his superb leveler.
Having risen through the Revolution’s Academy ranks, it was the moment the young midfielder had waited for, and one that will live long in the memory. Voted in preseason by his teammates as the player most likely to watch their own highlights back, no-one would begrudge Bajraktarević for savoring his first Revs goal on repeat, such was the caliber of the effort.
“I was waiting on the half space, and I thought Matty [Polster] was going to play it through the line,” he grinned.
“I was just ready, and I thought, once I’d turned: ‘Just hit it!’ because I was already on the top of the box. Once it came to me, I just shot it, and it went in.”
Technically gifted and skillful, the teenager has been affectionately hailed ‘the Milwaukee Messi’ by teammate Henry Kessler, and tipped for a bright future. Signed as the club’s ninth Homegrown Player in 2022, he became the first graduate of the Residency Program to make the first team roster, stepping out for his MLS debut at 17.
Witnessing the youngster’s attacking flair and craftsmanship every day on the training pitch, the brilliance of Bajraktarević’s effort came as no surprise to assist-maker Polster.
“He takes a really good first touch, and he has a good strike,” the 30-year-old said. “I’m happy he was able to bring us back into the game.
“He’s confident in himself. He’ll take players on in moments – maybe too often at times, but it’s something he really likes to do, and is good at.”
Monday’s memorable display against Querétaro is no doubt a sign of things to come from Bajraktarević, who is relishing every ounce of senior experience as he continues his development.
Tallying 10 appearances to his name this term, he has enjoyed more first-team minutes, eager to showcase his talents but importantly, remaining grounded with a willingness and desire to learn.
Though the Round of 16 encounter marked his first appearance in the 2023 Leagues Cup, the playmaker believes he and the team have gained a lot from the challenge of facing Liga MX teams and contesting knockout matches, with the disappointment of elimination driving a hunger for success.
“It's been a rollercoaster,” he declared. “I've never been in a professional penalty shootout like the last [two] games, so just seeing the atmosphere, and playing in a tournament setting instead of a league setting was really cool to see.
“It was a great experience.”