"Beyond The Box Score" is a weekly series presented by Compass Minerals that takes a statistical dive into every Sporting match, bringing to light the intriguing numbers and factoids that don't appear in the typical box score. To visit the series archive, click here.
When Gianluca Busio swapped his jersey number from 27 to the distinguished No. 10 at the beginning of the year, the 18-year-old midfielder knew exactly what he was signing up for.
This meant increased expectations as a leading contributor for Sporting Kansas City, specifically in the form of goals and assists. Busio didn't shy away from the reality, proclaiming multiple times leading into the season that he wanted "to be the guy" for Manager Peter Vermes' side.
In an entertaining Children's Mercy Park home opener on Friday night, Busio lived up to the billing with an expertly taken goal that guided Sporting to a 1-1 draw against Orlando City SC. The Sporting KC Academy product found the back of the net on the stroke of halftime, settling a pass from fellow Homegrown Daniel Salloi and rifling inside the near post to bring an electric, full-voiced crowd of 6,500 fans to its feet.
"He’s done an excellent job," Vermes said of Busio postgame after deploying him as an out-of-position center forward for the second straight match. "The goal he scores – people aren’t going to look at this way, but from my perspective – I look at it as being an incredibly high-level goal. You could even say world-class from the perspective of the tight space that he receives it, he turns, and the quick release to hit it to the near post and overpower the keeper. It was tremendous."
Busio's strike punctuated was was his 50th career regular season appearance for Sporting on Friday night. The milestone came over two and a half years after his historic MLS debut in July 2018 at Children's Mercy Park.
Impressively enough, Busio is only the seventh player in MLS history to reach 50 regular season appearances before his 19th birthday. Among the seven who have done so, he is one of five who have recorded at least six goals and five assists in those first 50 matches.
YOUNGEST PLAYERS TO HIT 50 MLS APPEARANCES
(REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
|Player||Club||Age||G + A in first 50 games|
|Freddy Adu||DC||16 years, 100 days||8 goals, 8 assists|
|Alphonso Davies||VAN||17 years, 219 days||2 goals, 8 assists|
|Andy Najar||DC||18 years, 189 days||8 goals, 6 assists|
|Diego Fagundez||NE||18 years, 206 days||14 goals, 9 assists|
|Eddie Gaven||RBNY||18 years, 218 days||12 goals, 10 assists|
|Luis Gil||RSL||18 years, 313 days||3 goals, 3 assists|
|Gianluca Busio||SKC||18 years, 330 days||6 goals, 5 assists|
"I’ve very proud of (Busio) because I love his attitude," Vermes continued after the game. "I love the way that he goes about his business. He’s always up for a challenge. That’s what’s great about him and he can find his way. He is just a pure soccer player. That’s why he can move around the field like he does and perform the way he does. He’s just an incredible kid. He’s got a great mentality and he’s got a great soccer IQ."
Possessing a great soccer IQ, of course, goes part and parcel with full effort and application on both sides of the ball. Busio stole the headlines for his goal on Friday, but his overall work rate should not go overlooked.
Taking a deeper dive into the numbers, Busio has taken part in 38 duels through the first two weeks of the 2021 MLS campaign. Since the dawn of the Opta era in 2010, that's the second-most duels by a Sporting player after Week 2 of the regular season. Only Felipe Gutierrez in 2018 had more duels in said period of time.
MOST DUELS THROUGH WEEK 2 OF MLS SEASON
(SPORTING KC, SINCE 2010)
It should be noted that Busio's goal also gave Salloi his first assist since September 2019. The 24-year-old Salloi has kicked off 2021 in impressive form, tallying the game-winning goal in a Week 1 defeat of the New York Red Bulls before setting up his teammate on Friday.
"He’s always had it in him," Busio said of Salloi in Friday's post-match press conference. "He’s had a tough couple seasons but the thing with him is he’s always in the right spots. He does everything well and even when he’s not scoring as much, he’s still always there. Major props to him (because) he’s a good player and I’ve been playing with him for a while now and we’re really good friends, so we have that connection. I’m more than happy to see him playing this well but it’s what I expected from him."
While Busio and Salloi spearheaded Sporting's attack, on the opposite end of the pitch it was center back Andreu Fontas and Children's Mercy Park debutant Nicolas Isimat-Mirin anchoring the defense. Isimat-Mirin nearly marked his first game at the stadium with a goal, only for his 13th-minute strike to be disallowed on VAR. Fontas, meanwhile, delivered another steady performance en route to a team-high six clearances.
Over the last eight MLS seasons, no Sporting player has racked up more clearances through Week 2 than Fontas' 17 in 2021.
MOST CLEARANCES THROUGH WEEK 2 OF MLS SEASON
(SPORTING KC, SINCE 2014)
Lastly, this edition of Beyond the Box Score would be remiss not to highlight major statistical achievements from two club legends.
We begin with 34-year-old midfielder Roger Espinoza, who on Friday moved into fourth place on Kansas City's all-time chart for regular season minutes played. Espinoza is a safe bet to pass current Sporting assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin for third place in the coming weeks.
MOST REGULAR SEASON MINUTES IN SKC HISTORY
|Roger Espinoza||20,193||256||231||2008-2012, 2015-present|
Casting our attention from on the action on the field to the leadership on the sidelines, the longest-tenured head coach in MLS history has put another feather in his illustrious cap. Vermes, now in his 13th season at Sporting's managerial helm, participated in his 600th MLS match as a player or a head coach (including playoffs) on Friday evening. Only one other person—longtime player and coach Jason Kreis—has been involved in more MLS matches as a player or a manager.
Most MLS matches as a player or coach (including playoffs)
|Person||Matches||As player||As coach|
When Vermes was appointed as interim manager of the Kansas City Wizards in August 2009, few would have guessed it to be the start of the longest head coaching reign that MLS has ever seen.
A dozen years later, Vermes has become an institution in Kansas City as one of the league’s winningest managers. He has hoisted four major trophies—the 2013 MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup titles in 2012, 2015 and 2017—finished atop the conference standings four times and led Sporting to nine playoff appearances in the last 10 seasons.
With four points from their first two matches this season, Sporting will continue their 2021 MLS campaign next Saturday, May 1, with a 1 p.m. CT visit to rivals Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Western Conference clash will be shown live on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO.