Esmir_bajraktarevic_-_asn_top_-_us_u-23_vs._mexico_-_10-11-23 Nicole Mullen / USA TODAY NETWORK
ASN Exclusive

Revs teenager Bajraktarevic pushing for USMNT debut and Olympic spot

Esmir Bajraktarevic is the youngest player in the current USMNT camp and has featured in the first two U-23 camps in the lead up to the Olympics. ASN's Brian Sciaretta has spoken with the Wisconsin-born teenager about his camp, the New England Revolution changes, and his future goals. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 19, 2024
1:05 PM

THE USMNT January camp is often a time to give young players an opportunity and for the program to build depth. But 2024 is an Olympic year and getting young players involved becomes especially important. On the current roster, Esmir Bajraktarevic stands out because he is the team's youngest player who is not only eligible for the Olympics this summer, but he’s also eligible for the U-20 World Cup in 2025, and the U.S. U-23 Olympic team in 2028 as well.

Bajraktarevic, 18, has been rated highly by U.S. youth coaches for several years. While he did not make the U-20 World Cup team last summer, he was involved with the team throughout the cycle while playing up an age group. He would then go on to thrive with the U.S. U-19 team. In October and November, Bajraktarevic was involved with the first two U-23 Olympic camps playing up a cycle. In the U.S. U-23 team’s first friendly, Bajraktarevic scored a wonderful goal in a 2-1 victory over Mexico.

With U.S. U-23 head coach Marko Mitrovic on Gregg Berhalter’s staff for January camp, it wasn’t surprising to see Bajraktarevic get call-up.

“Everybody kind of looks at that - being the youngest guy,” Bajraktarevic told American Soccer Now from January camp. “But talking to Gregg and Marko, they've been telling me this - if you're good enough, you're old enough. I try not to really think about my age that much. I still have a lot of growing to do, but I think that I can compete no matter what. It doesn't matter how young I am.”

But just like the U-23 team, Bajraktarevic is making the most of his chances this camp and last weekend he was one of the goal scorers in a 2-2 friendly draw with River Plate. Naturally a left footer, Bajraktarevic has been playing on the right wing where he can effectively cut centrally. In the goal against River Plate, he got behind the backline with a through-ball and beat the keeper with his right foot.

“Obviously, River plate is a very big club,” Bajraktarevic said. “A lot of great players have come from River Plate. So, I think it was good. And they're obviously a very physical team. The Argentinian league is like that. I think it was a good test for us. I think it was a really good experience.”

Camp will conclude on Saturday with a friendly against Slovenia and Bajraktarevic will hope to earn his first cap in the game. But overall, the experience has been a positive one for Bajraktarevic.

“It's been going really well so far,” Bajraktarevic said. “The group is really coming together well. The coaching staff have been doing a really good job guiding me and giving me feedback. It's been good so far. It's been good playing around players who are at a high level and everything. It's been making me better. Obviously, we're all here, they're all very good players and they're all really nice guys.”

But Bajraktarevic has also made a positive impression on his USMNT teammates as well.

“This is the first time I got to meet him and play with him,” said veteran USMNT defender Miles Robinson. “He's a great player, very dynamic. He likes to get forward. He's also mature and seems wise beyond his years.”

“I've really enjoyed seeing Esmir play up close,” added forward Brian White. “His dribbling is actually really fun to watch. I can see he's got a really bright future. It's been awesome watching him up close and personal.”

Following this tournament, Bajraktarevic will join the New England Revolution for preseason. Last season was a tumultuous period for the organization which saw the team never regain its footing after parting ways with head coach Bruce Arena. Last season, Bajraktarevic made 13 appearances and five starts for the Revolution with his highlight coming in a goal against Queretaro in the Leagues Cup. He also made nine appearances for the Revolution II in MLS Next Pro and scored eight goals.

Earlier this month, the Revolution announced Caleb Porter as the new head coach and Porter arrives having won MLS Cup with the Portland Timbers and the Columbus Crew. For Bajraktarevic, he knows that much of his future is predicated on him succeeding in New England.

“I've heard a lot of good things about him,” Bajraktarevic said. “He gave me a call a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to meet him in person yet because obviously I went straight to camp from off season. But I'm really looking forward to getting back to the club and preseason and I've heard a lot of good things about him, especially from players that played at the clubs he used to be at. I'm excited for the next season.”

Of course, internationally, the short-term goal for Bajraktarevic is his push to make the Olympic team this summer. Even with him being eligible for the U-20 World Cup and the following Olympics, Bajraktarevic says he is focused on the short term to “avoid being so overwhelmed.” But the 2024 Olympics remain a distinct possibility given his involvement the first two camps and now January camp.


“Obviously the Olympics are a huge thing,” Bajraktarevic said. “So many people watch it. It's a big platform. I was very I'm very happy to be a part of that group for the last two camps… I think we can go very far. I think we have a really good group. Obviously, the style, as we can see from the games against Mexico and Japan, Iraq and Morocco, I think it was the four friendlies that we had. You can tell that we like to play a very, very attacking style. We like to play forward. Marko encourages, especially players like me, to be creative and to let loose and play our game.”

“Marko's a great coach. I like the style that he likes to play with. With the U-23s. I, I really enjoy it. Obviously, kind of coming from the same background - he's Serbian, I'm Bosnian and so I can kind of understand the mindset and everything that he has. I enjoy playing under him a lot. He's a great coach, great person.”

For Bajraktarevic, another big question for his international future is whether he will represent the United States or Bosnia and he does have options. In addition to playing for the U.S. U-23, U.S. U-20, and even possibly the USMNT this weekend, he is also on the radar for Bosnia’s U-21 team.



Bajraktarevic was born in Appleton, Wisconsin and his parents moved there during amid the Bosnian war and the breakup of Yugoslavia. But his and his family’s ties to Bosnia are strong and he is still uncertain where his future will be.

“I haven't made my final decision yet on who I want to play for,” Bajraktarevic said. “I'm obviously still young. I want to keep my options open. But right now, I'm just focused on this camp and focused on playing with the U.S right now. But no final decision has been made for who I want to play for.”

For now, Bajraktarevic is playing for the United States and his experiences with the USMNT at this camp and the U.S. U-23 team have been positive. Ahead of Saturday’s game against Slovenia, Berhalter acknowledged that Bajraktarevic has had a very good first camp and was not lost in the moment despite being the youngest player in camp.

“In terms of Esmir, the coaching staff has been really impressed with him,” Berhalter said. “We're 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 had just really coped well with the environment. You would think that a young player, 18 years old, comes in shy and is afraid to impose himself on the field. But it is the exact opposite with Esmir. He's got a great future ahead of him.”

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