Sporting Kansas City made a trade for a familiar face this week in an attempt to reverse their recent struggles before Sunday’s match at D.C. United. But the biggest spark may not come until 16-year old Gianluca Busio rejoins the team.
Busio has been with the U.S. Men’s National Under-17 Team since April 28 (along with Sporting teammate Tyler Freeman of Shawnee, Kansas, who’s also 16). The Americans are hoping to clinch a berth in this fall’s U-17 World Cup tournament in Brazil.
Sporting hasn’t had a win since March 30, when Busio scored a goal in a 7-1 win over Montreal. When asked after the May 6 3-0 loss to Atlanta about Busio’s eventual return, Sporting manager Peter Vermes said, “Look, he’s done well, but it’s also tough for a young kid like that to try to carry a team on his shoulders.”
Just ask Freddy Adu, who broke in with DC United at the age of 14 in 2004 – the youngest in MLS history. Busio’s debut last year made him the second youngest. Busio also was the second youngest to score a goal in league history. No. 1: Adu.
Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler played against Adu when they were teens in the U.S. Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program.
“Obviously, Freddie’s name is as big as it gets,” Besler recalled. “For us, he was a superstar.”
Besler now plays side-by-side with Busio, a midfielder, so he’s in a position to judge Busio’s potential.
“I’m confident that he could achieve anything that he wants to at this point,” Besler said.
But that’s coming at a calculated pace: Adu flamed out quickly and Sporting doesn’t want that to happen to Busio, who turns 17 on May 28.
“I hope that there’s not too much pressure and too much expectation that is put on him because I witnessed first-hand what it was like with Freddie and it was a lot,” Besler said. “It was a lot for a kid to deal with.”
Developmental academies for MLS teams weren’t around when Adu came up. Now, there are 20 players under the age of 18 with MLS professional contracts.
At 14, Busio goaded his parents into letting him go for an MLS career.
“It was something I wanted to do because I just knew that, to get better, I needed to make this jump,” he said. “So I definitely was telling them to let me do it first, or try to do it.”
Sporting signed Busio to a professional contract a year later on Aug. 25, 2017. He progressed through the Sporting KC Academy before making his debut with the Swope Park Rangers on April 4, 2018, and recorded the game-winning assist. Come July 28, 2018, Busio made his MLS debut.
Down the road, Busio is interested in playing in Europe. Eventually.
“That’s always been a dream of mine, but I’m happy with where I’m at right now,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing to think about.”
Busio not only has the on-the-pitch skills, but also a maturity level that’s needed for him to do well at the highest professional levels, said FS1 commentator Stu Holden.
“A player who can make it to the next level is someone that can show that personality, that confidence and not look out-of-place at such a young age and compete,” said Holden, who played on the men’s national team from 2008 to 2013. “I see that from him.”
In the meantime, Sporting’s roster is littered with injuries, so the team picked up 34-year-old Benny Feilhaber from the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday for some immediate help. But when Busio is finished with his stint on the U.S. Under-17 team, Sporting will welcome him back with open arms.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.