Sunday was a day of supreme disappoint for American soccer fans. That afternoon, the U.S. U-23 Men’s National Team fell to Honduras in the semifinals of the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship. By doing so, the U.S. failed to reach the Summer Olympics for the third straight cycle.
The setback served as the centerpiece of a fascinating discussion between Sporting Kansas City defender Graham Zusi and Border Patrol hosts Nate Bukaty and Todd Leabo this morning on Sports Radio 810 WHB.
Zusi, a longtime U.S. national team player himself, provided context and insight surrounding the Americans’ recent performances in qualifying and major tournaments. Among his strongest opinions was the fact that 18-year-old Sporting Kansas City midfielder Gianluca Busio—the club’s new No. 10 and a teammate of Zusi’s since 2017—could have given the U-23s a cutting edge at the qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Zusi was particularly complimentary of Busio’s mentality, saying that the Sporting KC Academy product is ready to embrace the high-stakes moments that often decide matches.
“I can assure you that’s not Busio right now—someone who’s shrinking away from pressure,” Zusi said. “It’s the complete opposite. The guy wants the ball at all times. When you ask for the No. 10, that puts pressure on yourself, but that’s what he wants right now. He wants to be the guy. Watching what (the U.S. U-23s) were lacking in the midfield, I think Busio would have provided something.
“He’s so good at getting the ball in between the lines, especially between the opponent’s defenders and midfielders. When he gets it, he’s so good on the turn and he just drives at the other team’s defense. It makes them have to make decisions, and he’s also good enough that once he sees the decision they’ve made, he makes the right decision about playing someone in or taking the shot himself.
“We saw glimpses of it in the last couple of years, but he’s taken that ability and kicked it up three or four notches. It’s pretty cool to see.”
Later in the conversation, Zusi provided an update on his rehabilitation progress. After suffering a season-ending foot injury last October, the seven-time MLS All-Star began running on the soccer field this week as Sporting spends its final few days of preseason camp in Arizona. Zusi said he expects to be involved in some form of training with the team in the next few weeks.
Zusi also remarked on newly acquired French center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, who has begun training after traveling stateside from Europe and undergoing a quarantine period.
“I can see already that his technical ability is very good,” Zusi said of the 29-year-old Isimat-Mirin, who boasts 10 years of professional experience in Europe. “He’s very comfortable on the ball, his soccer instincts and IQ are very high, and I’m excited to see him in a game-like situation. Seeing him in training situations, he’s looked very good.”
Manager Peter Vermes’ side will face the LA Galaxy in their final preseason exhibition match on Saturday at Kino North Complex in Tucson, Arizona. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. CT with a live stream on the Sporting KC app and at SportingKC.com/live.
Sporting will kick off the club's 26th season in MLS on April 17, visiting the New York Red Bulls at 7 p.m. CT. Vermes’ men will then host Orlando City SC in a highly anticipated Children's Mercy Park home opener on April 23 at 6:30 p.m. CT. Tickets to Sporting's first four home matches are available while supplies last at SeatGeek.com.