In the fifth edition of this behind-the-scenes series, Sporting midfielder Gianluca Busio reflects on the funniest moments in Disney World thus far, the team’s golf excursions, advocating for social justice, his message to supporters and more.
As fans may have seen on social media, Sporting went on a mini golf outing earlier this week on the hotel campus.
We were split into groups so I can’t comment on everyone’s performance, but I played with Daniel Salloi, Jaylin Lindsey, Cam Duke, Felipe Hernandez and Wan Kuzain. Cam and Kuz were probably the best players. I was pretty good, too, to be honest. On Daniel’s very first putt on hole No. 1, he hit the ball straight into the lake. Not even part of the course. He had to go get a new ball, so things started pretty well for him. Jaylin had a few hole-in-ones early, but I think that was his hottest moment. After that, he was really down.
Mini golf was actually the team’s second golf activity during the trip. A few weeks ago, players hit the greens for five holes before a quintessential Orlando rainstorm cut things short.
I was with Jaylin, Kuz and Graham Smith. Graham and Kuz are legit—they golf a lot. They carried the team in our scramble. In the end, we shot three under. That was a pretty decent score for us. I had a couple of good drives, but I’ve got to work on my short game. My driving is definitely better than everything else. The course was absolutely amazing—really beautiful, and of course playing with your friends makes it even better. All of us play from time to time in Kansas City, but this was the first time we did it as a team. Everyone talks trash about each other’s golf games, so it was good to put things to the test on the course.
This may be Sporting’s first long-term trip to Disney World, but Busio almost landed a leading role in The Lion King school play when he was in eighth grade.
In terms of throwbacks, Lion King is my favorite Disney movie of all time. I was actually in a Lion King play in middle school, so that movie is close to me. In the school play, I tried out for Pumba. I was in eighth grade at the time, so I was playing Academy soccer and couldn’t make any rehearsals. I still wanted to be a part of it, so I ended up being the backstage manager. But I knew everyone’s roles and I knew Pumba’s lines, so I was pretty much Pumba’s understudy. I was so excited about the possibility of being that character, but I was just traveling too much for soccer.
Most of the team meals have taken place buffet-style in the meal room, but Sporting has also visited multiple restaurants in the hotel.
At Shula’s Steakhouse, the steak and potatoes I had were amazing. It was basic, but it was really, really good. There’s also an Italian restaurant in our hotel, Il Mulino, and they have some great gnocchi. With me being Italian, I critique a lot of Italian food because my mom cooks it a lot and I think she cooks it the best. But they really do well with their Italian food down here. The gnocchi with Bolognese sauce was probably the best meal I’ve had this trip.
Daniel Salloi’s birthday on July 19 served up the two funniest moments on the trip so far.
The first one happened after training when a few of the players were doing interviews with Carter Augustine. I got called over for an actual interview, then they called Daniel over so that we could egg him. I don’t think Carter had planned many serious questions for Daniel, so I was just kind of standing behind Carter and making faces and playing around to distract him. While Daniel was laughing and focused on me, that’s when Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton snuck up and egged him on his head. If I hadn’t done my part, he probably would have noticed and turned around. So I think I played a good part in that.
Then there was the water volleyball incident at the hotel pool. The exact moment was probably three hours into our game because we played the whole afternoon. I was on one team and Daniel was on the other. If you watch the video closely, you can see that Jaylin was splashing water right in Daniel’s eyes, so it was already chaos. Daniel managed to hit it back over the net, we go back and forth a few times and everyone’s yelling at Daniel to hit the ball. He hits it straight up to me, then jumps up to try and block my shot, but I was already above him and smashed the ball straight on his head. I didn’t mean to—I was just trying to smash it down—but he jumped straight into it. It was perfect, we couldn’t have choreographed it any better.
The hotel pools receive high marks. And there’s always time for FIFA, of course.
We have access to four amazing pools outside. There’s spikeball, beach volleyball, pretty much every outdoor activity you can think of to keep you occupied. If we’re not too tired from training, we’ll go out by the pools every day. We have also really enjoyed going out to eat when we’ve had the chance. The hotel has sushi, a steakhouse and Italian. It’s nice to get away from the normal buffet lines. The food we’ve had in the meal room has been really good, but it’s fun to enjoy the restaurant experience.
If we want to stay inside the hotel, we’ve got a video game room where we play lots of PlayStation 4 together. We play tons of FIFA, of course. Jaylin, Cam and I have been playing Pro Clubs mode where you create a player and play online against other people. In Pro Clubs mode, you control just one player. I’m a striker, Jaylin’s a midfielder and Cam’s a left winger. My guy is like 6-foot-7, 99 pounds and can run really fast.
Prior to Sporting’s first match of the tournament against Minnesota United FC, each player on the team wore a jersey patch with the name of a person who was the victim of racism or a serious illness.
The name I chose for the back of my jersey was Tamir Rice. He was a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed because he was holding a toy gun. I chose him because, at the time of his death, we were the same age. It was kind of crazy to me that he was my age. That could have been me. That could have been any 12-year-old boy. It was so crazy to me that we were the same age. Tamir could be an 18-year-old kid right now, and that was taken away from him. So I wanted to bring light to that.
MLS has done a great job bringing light to everything that has happened with injustice and inequality in our country. We’re still a long way from being where we need to be. We just have to keep using our platforms and keep bringing light to it as much as possible. I think what we’ve done as a team and a league so far is amazing. It shows that not only Black players, but all players won’t stand for racism and inequality. More people are noticing now, but we have to keep moving forward with it.
Everything I’ve seen here at the tournament has been great. The MLS Black Players for Change demonstration before the first game on July 8 was powerful. Kneeling at each kickoff has been great, too, so hopefully we can all continue to educate ourselves and figure out how to make even bigger impacts.
Busio stays in touch with his family back in North Carolina every single day.
My mom wakes up really early, so it usually starts with a text from her. She always texts, “Good morning! Results?” She’s referencing to our COVID testing, which is obviously a bit stressful for her. She gets nervous so that’s just her mom response, making sure that I’m OK. Then I can tell her we’re all negative.
After lunch, I’ll come back to my hotel room and I’ll face time my mom. We’ll have a quick conversation and just talk about how everyone at home is doing. I talk to my brother and sister, too, but that’s a different kind of communicating. Usually Snapchat and stuff like that.
Wednesday’s win over Real Salt Lake saw Busio start in a game that kicked off at 9 a.m. local time.
I haven’t played that early since I was in the Academy, probably a few years ago. We would play games at 8 or 9 a.m. or in the early afternoons. The U.S. U-17s also had some early morning games last year at World Cup qualifying here in Florida.
I found out I was starting against Salt Lake the day before the game during a team meeting. Every player has a different mindset in terms of whether they’re starting or on the bench. Obviously if you’re starting, you have to be ready from the get-go. You have to go in and try to make an impact on the game. When you’re a sub, you can see how things play out, and your role may be different depending on the situation. Maybe you’re up 3-0 and your job is to help keep the ball. Maybe you’re down and you need to go help get a goal. That’s the difference as a sub—when you get in, you have to deal with what the game gives you. As a starter, you have to find your groove, grow into the game and make a big change in a positive way. I think I’ve been learning how to do that with more chances I’ve received.
A few other young players also made a big impact on Wednesday, including Graham Smith and Felipe Hernandez.
We’ve made a few squad rotations in this tournament, and whenever a young guy gets a chance to play, I think any of them has the ability to play really well at the MLS level. Graham had a really good performance in defense. He kept a clean sheet, won headers and did everything you need from a center back. He’s been a good player ever since he joined the club, so I saw that coming from him.
Felipe has been doing great things in the USL, and it was only a matter of time before he got his chance in MLS. He got into the game on Wednesday and really showed what he can do. I’ve been around him for years now, going back to our Academy days. He can be one of the better young players in the league. We also know what guys like Daniel, Jaylin, Kuzain, Cam, Tyler Freeman and John Pulskamp are capable of, too. I’m excited to be coming up with such a good group of young guys.
Fans may not be in the stands at the MLS is Back Tournament, but Busio has a message for all of the Sporting Kansas City supporters back home.
We know you can’t be here with us, but we feel your love. We see what you’re posting on social media with your videos and well wishes. All of that really goes a really long way. To the Cauldron and everyone else cheering us on, we’re trying to give back to you as much as possible, especially during these times. As players, we know how big of a role fans play. You give us a different level of energy. Thank you for all of the support up to this point, but this is just the start. We have a few more games to go in this tournament, and hopefully we can bring the title back home to all of you.