Gianluca Busio, Tim Melia, Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton preview the 2021 season

On the second day of voluntary preseason training at Compass Minerals National Performance Center, Sporting Kansas City players Gianluca Busio, Tim Melia, Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton spoke to media to discuss a variety of topics as the team prepares for the 2021 campaign. Select remarks from all four players are below.


Midfielder Gianluca Busio

On taking the prestigious No. 10 jersey in 2021…

When I was playing in the academy in North Carolina, my brother wore No. 10 and he was the best player on that team. So that’s what I was working towards—to get that No. 10. On the (youth) national team I’ve been lucky enough to wear it a couple of times. It’s been a goal of mine and something I’ve worked towards. It’s one of the best numbers to wear in soccer with Messi, Maradona, all of those players. For me to (wear) it is a big step for me. It’s big shoes to fill, but for me it means a lot. Hopefully I can do a lot of big things in that number.

On his conversations with former Sporting player Benny Feilhaber, who is now a member of the club’s technical staff…

We had a short talk when I got No. 10. He brought up that he’s the best player to wear it at this club. He just wished me luck and wants to see me do well. It was all jokes and a good time. Benny did great things in that number and hopefully I can do close to what he has done—or even better. It’s special to wear the number after a guy like him, a legend at the club.

On how he will be able to learn from Feilhaber, who was also a midfielder during his playing days…

It’s really big for me, especially being in the same exact position. He sees the game the same way I do. It’ll be really good to be able to work with him for the whole year, and I think he’ll help me a lot as well as all of the other young guys. We’re used to him as a teammate, so now it’s going to be a different perspective, but we’re all happy to have him. I’m really excited to work with him and learn things from him.

On his positional versatility…

I enjoy being on the field, whether that’s at the 6, the 8, the 10 or on the left wing. It’s something I’m ready for and I’ve been working on my game to fit any of those positions. It was big for me this offseason to focus on that final pass or that final goal. Anywhere I’m going to play, I’m ready for it and I’m open to it.

On the qualities of new teammate Remi Walter, who joined Sporting from France…

We’ve only been training a couple of days now, but you can tell the talent is there. He has quality, he’s very technical and he’s clean on the ball. I really feel like it’ll be a good partnership between me and him and all of the midfield guys. From what I’ve seen of him, his technical ability is one of the best I’ve seen. I’m really excited to see what can happen with him this year.

On the shift in his attitude and mindset heading into 2021…

This year it’s more of a takeover mentality. I want to be the guy. That’s something I feel more confident to do. The past couple of years, you feel like a young guy and you want to get a couple of starts here and there. This year, I want to be the guy they’re looking at when they need something to happen. This year I have the experience and I really want to try and make that jump. I’m going to try my best to make that step forward and I think I’m ready for it.

Goalkeeper Tim Melia

On his early priorities heading into 2021…

Last year I thought we had stretches where we were very good defensively and we had stretches where we could have done better as a team. All of us need to continue to develop and jell and build off of last year. As a goalkeeper, one of my big priorities is to make us the best defensive team that we can possibly be. That’s my goal from the onset.

On his mindset during the offseason…

Normally you step away for two or three weeks (for a break) in the offseason. This year I was out for a week or two and started getting back into goalie training and catching balls. The way I looked at it, when I hit the ground running in preseason, I wanted to be a little more consistent at the beginning of the year. If I am more consistent, it’s going to make the players in front of me better.

On gradually welcoming fans back to stadiums over the course of 2021…

What I’m most excited about this year—and I know it’s not going to happen right off the bat—but it’s getting fans back in the stadiums. The presences and atmosphere that fans bring to our games, they have no idea how much of an effect they have on players and results. The thing I’m looking forward to the most is getting the season going on the right foot but also being back in the environment we love to play in, especially at our stadium.

On having former teammate Benny Feilhaber as an assistant coach on the technical staff…

He’s excited to be back. He’s a wealth of knowledge because he’s played so many games. He’s a great character as a player and I think all of that is going to transition as a coach. He has a tremendous amount of experience and brings energy. We’re excited to see what he does and I’m glad to see him back here. This is where he belongs and where he’s going to excel. I think there are bright things coming from him as a coach.

On the preseason performance of newly acquired goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh…

So impressive. I haven’t seen him play a ton, but he’s been incredibly impressive. It’s early on and none of us are sharp yet, but he is explosive, has good technique and good feet, and I think he has a bright future. We’re happy to have him in the group.

Forward Johnny Russell

On the offseason departures of Gerso Fernandes and Erik Hurtado…

They’re going to be big losses, but losses like that bring opportunities for other people. It’s up to the guys who are now going to be given that opportunity to take it. We’ve got some exciting young players who will be getting opportunities in preseason, so I’m excited to see what the guys can do. Competition is healthy. If they’re good enough, they’re going to be old enough.

On Scotland participating in UEFA Euro this summer and his goals to get back into the national team squad…

How long have we waited to be in a major tournament? The fact that we’ve got one coming up and have England in our group is a massive occasion. It’s massive excitement for the whole country. Hopefully when the Euro takes place, we can get fans back in the stadium. I think we all know that games without fans aren’t the same, especially for massive games like that in the UK. Games like that without fans have an edge missing to them. My aim is still to be in the Scotland squad. It was difficult last year and nearly impossible with the (travel) restrictions to be involved with the squad, which was hard for me. Hopefully there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now and we can see a way out of this—and obviously for me, a way back in as well.

On how the 2021 season will represent a gradual return to normalcy…

This year is going to be different. We’re going to play a lot more teams and hopefully we can have a normal season and get the fans back in all of the stadiums as soon as we can. On the whole, 2020 was a bit of a weird year on that front. We’re glad it’s behind us and glad we’re looking at a different sort of season this year.

Forward Khiry Shelton

On his community involvement as the club’s 2020 Humanitarian of the Year…

There are more things to do within the club. I’m definitely going to participate in more projects and programs. Right now we have The Victory Project and there are many programs within The Victory Project that I’m excited about, specifically Shadow Buddies. I’m willing to do anything I can. I’m willing to reach out (as a member of) the club and get onboard.

On what he expects from Sporting’s young players….

They need to come in and want to win—want to work for the team. Those are the two biggest pieces. This organization does a good job of bringing players in who are well equipped and can adapt to the system. We’re looking forward to seeing these young guys on the pitch and seeing what they bring to the table.

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