Beyond The Box Score: Sporting KC’s Fountain of Youth Springs Success in Salt Lake City

Wednesday’s 2-0 road victory over Real Salt Lake in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round felt a little sweeter than it normally would for a Sporting Kansas City side that has won the competition in three of the last six seasons and four times overall since 2004.

The result not only propelled Manager Peter Vermes’ men to the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 — where they will host FC Dallas at 8 p.m. CT on Saturday, June 16, at Children’s Mercy Park — but marked another historic breakthrough in the club’s booming youth movement.

The buzz surrounding Wednesday’s showdown at Rio Tinto Stadium was amplified during pregame when Sporting KC unveiled a 5-4-1 setup that boasted three homegrown teenagers and a handful of players who had earned an opportunity with the first team after starring for the Swope Park Rangers. And despite the youthful and unique look of Vermes’ starting XI, Sporting KC emerged from one of Major League Soccer’s hardest places to play with a convincing and well-deserved win.

Forward Johnny Russell and Kharlton Belmar did the damage with clinical second-half goals — more on Belmar in a minute — but much of the social media excitement tied to the fixture was the result of Sporting KC’s homegrown wunderkind making his club debut.

At 16 years and nine days, midfielder Gianluca Busio on Wednesday became the youngest Sporting KC player ever to feature in a competitive match. The U.S. youth international started and went the full 90 minutes in a midfield diamond that also included fellow homegrown and 19-year-old Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, who just three days earlier had become the team’s second-youngest player to score in the MLS regular season.


# Player Age Date Result Competition
1 Gianluca Busio 16 years, 9 days 06/06/2018 W 2-0 at Real Salt Lake Open Cup
2 Erik Palmer-Brown 17 years, 24 days 05/18/2014 L 1-2 at Chicago Fire MLS
3 Jaylin Lindsey 18 years, 2 months, 7 days 06/03/0218 W 4-1 vs. Minnesota United FC MLS
4 Nino da Silva 18 years, 3 months, 5 days 08/31/1997 L 0-2 at D.C. United MLS
5 Yura Movsisyan 18 years, 9 months, 11 days 05/13/2006 L 1-2 at D.C. United MLS
6 Soony Saad 19 years 08/17/2011 W 3-1 vs. Portland Timbers MLS
7 Jon Kempin 19 years, 1 month, 21 days 05/29/2012 W 3-2 vs. Orlando City SC Open Cup
8 Jake Dancy 19 years, 4 months, 15 days 08/24/1997 T 2-2 at San Jose Earthquakes MLS
9 Nansel Selbol 19 years, 4 months, 19 days 10/19/2016 W 3-1 vs. Central FC CCL
10 Jose Burciaga Jr. 19 years, 6 months, 3 days 05/19/2001 L 0-2 at Chicago Fire MLS

Joining Busio and Kuzain among the starters was 18-year-old Jaylin Lindsey, who in Sunday’s 4-1 demolition of Minnesota United FC became the club’s third-youngest player to appear in a game.

With this talented trio in the lineup, Wednesday was the first time in Kansas City history that three teenagers featured in a competitive match. And when 21-year-old forward Daniel Salloi entered the contest as a 75th-minute substitute, it marked the first time ever that Sporting KC fielded four homegrown players in the same game.

The only other occasion in which Sporting KC’s starting XI featured three homegrown products was on Sept. 27, 2015, when Jon Kempin, Kevin Ellis and Erik Palmer-Brown helped the team to a 1-1 draw three days before the club won the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title at the Philadelphia Union.

The plaudits don’t stop there, however, as a handful of other young guns played integral roles in Wednesday’s triumph.

Kharlton Belmar, the 25-year-old forward who has bagged a whopping 23 goals since the start of 2017 with the Swope Park Rangers — including a USL-leading eight this season and a club-record 15 last year — earned his first Sporting KC start and set up Russell’s go-ahead goal in the 47th minute and effectively sealed the win with a close-range strike on 74 minutes.

Joining Busio among the Sporting KC debutants was 22-year-old goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas, who capped his first club appearance with a pair of solid saves and a clean sheet. The 6-foot-5 keeper wielded a remarkable 23-5-6 record and 15 shutouts from 2016-2017 as a member of the Rangers.

Like Zendejas, 23-year-old center back Amer Didic was a standout performer in each of the last two seasons for a Rangers outfit that claimed back-to-back USL Western Conference championships. The 6-foot-4 defender, who earned USL All-League First Team honors as a rookie, delivered a 90-minute shift on Wednesday in his first Sporting KC appearance since starting three games during the Concacaf Champions League group stage in 2016.

Lastly, 23-year-old Emiliano Amor, who joined Didic and captain Matt Besler in central defense, put in a commanding backline performance — Real Salt Lake mustered just two shots on target — and provided a pair of incisive through balls into the attacking third that directly led to each of Sporting KC’s goals.

“It is very good to see the young guys come in and play the way that they played,” Vermes said postgame. “Those kids are going to get a lot of chances. Every chance is hopefully going to be a step and the players made really good steps in the game. They were positive ones, so I'm happy about that.”

Not surprisingly, most of Wednesday’s storylines revolved around a youthful Sporting KC squad that played beyond its years. But we would be remiss not to mention yet another major milestone from Besler.

The 31-year-old Kansas City native etched his name atop the club’s all-time chart with his 18th career Open Cup start, taking sole possession of first place after passing current assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin. Besler also became the first player in team history to hit 25,000 minutes played in all competitions, a marker reached on the night he went head-to-head with his 25-year-old brother, RSL midfielder Nick Besler, for the first time in his professional career.