Academy Way

Sporting KC's Gianluca Busio unconcerned with status as "youngest since Freddy Adu"

Gianluca Busio Training Sporting KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Gianluca Busio is aware of his age and his place as the second-youngest player to sign an MLS deal – and the youngest active player in any major American sport, for that matter.

It’s not a pressing concern for Sporting Kansas City’s 15-year-old forward, though.

“I don’t really think about that kind of stuff,” Busio told reporters after a club news conference on Friday. “I don’t care, really. I just want to play soccer. I know it’s nice to be the youngest and be known as something special, but I just want to work and play soccer.

“Right now, it’s just to progress until I can get into the first team as quickly as possible.”

At the same time, Busio has seen what 16-year-old Alphonso Davies has accomplished with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Canadian national team after turning pro last year at 15 – so he’s not setting his sights too low, either.

“I’ve told myself that (young players) are getting on the field and playing,” said Busio, a US youth international coming off a five-goals-in-five-matches performance at the CONCACAF U-15 championships. “I’m just as good as them, I think, so I think I can step up also – but it’s also going to take some time.”

How much time depends on Busio, manager Peter Vermes said during Friday’s news conference.

“It’s not like you say, ‘You have to spend one month here, you have to spend two months here,’” Vermes said. “It doesn’t work that way. It’s the progression that we are going to be doing, based on how he’s moving along and developing. Player development is driven by the player.”

A lot has changed, too, in the way talented young players are brought along by their clubs and integrated into the league.

When Freddy Adu turned pro with D.C. United in 2004, becoming that year’s No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick at age 14, he was hyped as the future of American soccer and thrown right into the grind of league play and media scrutiny.

He spent 13 years as a professional, with 17 caps for the USMNT – but also bounced from club to club, never achieving stardom anywhere, and could well be out of the pro game for good at 28.

Busio’s track will be slower: training with the senior team to learn and improve his game, continuing to play in academy matches to keep his fitness, and aiming for USL side Swope Park Rangers as his first milestone destination.

“I think the difference today as opposed to what we had then is the support within the club to make sure that it’s not just about soccer,” Vermes said. “There are so many other things; his schooling, the fact that we have Swope Park Rangers to bridge the gap for the player, so he can not be under so much pressure to get in there right away and be the player at 15, 16 years old that everybody expects him to be when he’s 20.”

With dual nationality (and a European passport) through his Italian-born father, Busio had several chances to begin his professional career abroad. He chose to move from North Carolina to join Sporting KC’s academy, he said, because of that support network he found in Kansas City.

“When I came to Kansas, they really brought me in like family and made me a part of it,” he said during the news conference. “They were investing in me. They were really wanting me. Other teams did that, but I didn’t really feel the connection. Then I came here, I met everybody, and the team really wanted me. Everybody was so nice, and they just brought me in.

“I clearly made the right choice.”