Most of those inside Children’s Mercy Park for Sunday night’s Gold Cup Group B doubleheader were supporting the US men’s national team as they defeated Haiti 1-0. But by the sound of things, an even bigger chunk of the audience in Kansas City were Busio backers.
Sporting KC homegrown Gianluca Busio earned some of the biggest cheers and chants of the evening, not just when he made his senior international debut for the USMNT in the 62nd minute, but as early as the pregame warmups on his home pitch.
It was a heartwarming moment for the 19-year-old central midfielder, a North Carolina native who relocated to KC at age 14 to join Sporting’s academy. As local media reported, his mother, Dr. Dionne Sills Busio, made the trip to the Midwest to witness the milestone in person.
Based on his performance, it looks to be the first of plenty more USMNT caps to come.
Busio completed 28 of his 31 passes (90%) according to Stats Perform data, and made several defensive interventions as the Yanks managed their slim lead. He also stung the palms of Grenadiers goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre with a wickedly-struck half-volley from range in the 76th minute.
“It was a really special feeling for me,” said Busio postgame. “I thought it was really a good game for me to get into, get used to Concacaf. It was a little chippy, but I'm happy we get away with the win, and to do it in front of my home crowd, that was really, really big for me.
“And hearing people chanting my name is something that not many players get to experience. I'm just happy that I can do it at home. A national team debut with a win is really big, and to do it at my home is even more special.”
It also represents the latest of many objectives Busio has targeted, methodically pursued and achieved on his rapid rise to prominence.
“I think I've done a lot at a young age, and when I signed when I was 15, I always wanted to make my national team debut. This is the next step for me, really,” Busio said in a Friday media availability. “When you're 15, you think about just getting on the field and making your debut for your MLS team. Then a couple years later, you're trying to get in the starting lineup and be a consistent starter, and I did that this year. Now my goal was to make the national team and then that's what happened.”
With his steep upward developmental trajectory and possession of a European Union passport via his Italian father, Busio has been the subject of heavy transfer interest across the Old World, a drumbeat that has grown deafening over the past few months. He maintains that he’s letting all that play out as it may.
“That stuff will figure itself out, I think. I have people around me who can handle that for me,” Busio said of the transfer talk. “My main focus is just on playing soccer, and right now I'm focused on the Gold Cup and playing as well as I can. And then after, maybe I'll think about it more, and that's something my agent has to think about. But right now I'm focused on the next training and the next game and that's where my head’s at.”
The insertion of Busio and Portland Timbers mainstay Eryk Williamson and a shift to a 5-3-2 formation stabilized the USMNT midfield at a key phase in Sunday’s match. Combined with US coach Gregg Berhalter’s ready postgame praise, it bodes well for their prospects of bigger roles in the upcoming group stage matches vs. Martinique and Canada.
“From my standpoint it's great to see his development. It's great to see the work that Sporting KC put in to get him to this place,” said Berhalter of Busio. “And when he came into the game, he showed a ton of calm, poise, and for the coaching staff, he did an excellent job in the game.”