In moving from prospect to impact player, SKC's Busio entering key phase of his career
June 11, 2021
OVER THE PAST SEVERAL years, a lot of top players have emerged from MLS teams to help their clubs, move onto the national team, and eventually get sold to the top leagues within Europe. For most of these players, the progress was obvious. Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams, and Matt Miazga, Mark McKenzie all won Supporters Shields as teenagers and it was clear a move was imminent. DeAndre Yedlin stood out at the 2014 World Cup before getting sold from Seattle to Tottenham. Zack Steffen was the league’s best goalkeeper in Columbus.
Gianluca Busio, 19, is heading into such a crossroads with his career. Long been considered one of the top American players from the 2002 birth year and a veteran of the U-17 World Cup in 2019, Busio has been progressing at Sporting Kansas City – after signing in 2017 and making his debut in 2018.
At the start of the 2021 season, however, Busio appears as if he has turned the corner and made the difficult transition from top prospect and into a key player. Busio has started all eight of Sporting Kansas City’s games, has scored two goals, helped the team into a second-place start, and has taken a prominent role in the club’s midfield.
“I think I played well last season, but at the end of the year, I really felt like I'm good enough to do more,” Busio told ASN. “And that's what I want to do. I want to do more. I want to be the best player on the field. That was the kind of mindset I adopted more during the offseason and really try to put into my game, starting with pre-season. I feel like I've always had the ability to do so. I just wanted to really show everybody else.”
The last game before the Nations League break saw the spotlight shine on Busio even more and signified that he had turned a page in his development. In the 3-2 win over Houston, Busio scored a stunning free kick goal that quickly went viral.
Gianluca Busio - Wowzers - what a great start to the season for him. This free kick is well worth a watch pic.twitter.com/tbJLAqGP0k— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 30, 2021
What drew less attention, however, is that he also put in a well-rounded effort which was highlighted by his 102 touches, 72/79 passing, and three key passes. Sporting head coach Peter Vermes has shifted Busio to various midfield positions since last season but lately he has been playing a deeper No. 6 role as opposed to his typical attacking roles. This has seen Busio become more involved while also still contributing offensively from a deeper position – which is fitting given that his idol in the sport is Italy’s legendary deep playmaker Andrea Pirlo.
Gianluca Busio: raw # for SKC in 3-2 win vs. Houston— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 30, 2021
102 touches (!)
2/9 accurate crossing
3/4 accurate long balls
3 key passes
5/13 duels won
- touch map pic.twitter.com/qipr9ZpNkG
“Obviously, I've dropped back to the No. 6 now and the No. 6 is probably going to get more touches,” Busio said. “I want to be the guy this year and I want to really control everything and I want the team to go through me. I always want to make myself available. I do a good job at finding the spaces and really giving an option to my team. That's what I want to do. Obviously, I want the ball at all times. I feel like I can create a lot with the ball on my feet - even if it's from the No. 6 spot. I think this has to do with our team doing really well with possession. We're really good team on the ball and if you find the right spots, they'll get it to you. I'm kind of the guy now who's pushing the game forward from the back.”
Busio admits that it can be tough frequently changing positions but he is simply happy being on the field and playing important roles. He is also confident in his abilities on the ball to always find a way to contribute and he believes he can learn quickly.
If he remains at the No. 6, however, a big measure of success for him will be his defense and ability to close down on the playmakers for opposing teams. He is aware of the importance of that and has made it a priority to work on that.
“It definitely that's one of the things I'm still learning,” Busio admitted on his defense. “I'm not a big guy. I am not the strongest guy. With the No. 6, you're going have to stop their No. 10 a lot of times and stop their counterattacks. That's definitely something that I'm still trying to work on. I just want to be there and I want to try to cause disruption. I want to stop the ball. I wasn't raised a defender and I know as an attacker it's not fun to have a pest on you. Even though I'm not going to be able to maybe win the ball all the time, [there is value in] just being there and trying to make them make a mistake or make them go backwards and eventually sometimes win ball. The stronger I get and the bigger I get and quicker, probably easier it will be for me to win the ball and win more tackles. Just being there is a start. And from there on, I'll try to build on trying to be more of a destroyer.”
It has been a huge start to the season for Busio. In addition to starting the season off in fine form, transfer interest has picked up with reported offers from clubs inside Europe’s “Big Five” leagues. With these reports and with his performances, Busio has been generating significant attention in the soccer media. In terms of the hype, Busio is aware but has been blocking it out.
As far as the transfer rumors, Busio remains happy with Sporting Kansas City and believes that starting with the club has been the best thing for his career. His youth, his progress, and his Italian passport have given him options but he only wants to make the move when he believes he is ready to compete for first-team minutes.
“I started with Sporting at a really young age,” Busio said. “There were opportunities for me to try to go to Europe at that age. In the end, I didn't feel like I was ready. I was a 15-year-old kid. It's gone pretty much how I wanted it so far. The first couple of years in MLS, there was still European interest. But do I feel that I was ready? I want to really be ready. I want to go to Europe and try to push for first team minutes. I don't want to go to Europe and start with the academy. I want to be at the point of my ability to go to a club and really help them and not just be a number. Obviously, I'm extremely happy with Kansas City. They've built me into the player I am today.”
“I've learned how to block it out a little bit,” Busio added on the hype. “You're going to see what everybody's saying about you eventually. I'm playing well now, but it can switch back and forth. Right now, it's a really special time for us, for our generation. Seeing the national team and guys like Gio and all these young guys who are playing well in Europe and now for the national team. It's really paving the way for guys like me in MLS who want to be in Europe or make that jump and want to make the national team.”
Leading Sporting KC or pushing for Europe are not the only goals for Busio at the moment. He also has international ambitions with the United States. If COVID pandemic never hit, Busio would likely be in Thailand with the U.S. U-20 team at the U-20 World Cup. Instead, however, he knows the Gold Cup is fast approaching next month and he is hoping his current form is enough to put him on the final roster.
“It's obviously that's my big motivation,” Busio said of the Gold Cup. “Knowing that there's a big tournament coming up and I want to push for that, that's what I'm playing every game towards. If I don't make it, then I'm going to keep on trying to prove them that they made a mistake. I'm going to continue to play well. I'm focusing on Sporting and winning games and playing well. But I'm trying to make the national team.”