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SSFC Spotlight: The next step is here for Gianluca Busio

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The versatile midfielder has options.

SOCCER: MAY 29 MLS - Houston Dynamo FC at Sporting Kansas City Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After almost four years as a professional, Gianluca Busio appears ready to take a big leap forward at the club and international level. Transfer interest in the 19-year-old Sporting Kansas City midfielder continues to grow. The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly considering adding him to the roster for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. A potential overnight sensation several years in the making, a breakout season combined with an Italian passport has led to increased attention and a likely move abroad.

Busio was born in Greensboro, North Carolina and played youth soccer with the North Carolina Fusion, pushed into higher age groups. In 2016, he left home and joined the Sporting Kansas City Academy amid interest from a variety of American clubs and Fulham. His first year in Kansas was a struggle, necessitating switching host families and changing from in-person schooling to online classes. The situation eventually settled and the former Wizards signed him to a Homegrown contract, the second-youngest player in Major League Soccer history.

“When I first got here, I felt like they really wanted me here and they were making an investment in me,” he said after joining the club. “The team was nice and like a family and they brought me into it right away. I felt they were interested in me and were going to focus on me.”

Sporting Kansas City was prudent with his development, moving him between the first team and the reserves in the USL Championship. The patience paid off with his first goal coming in a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Busio praised Peter Vermes for being “hard” on younger players while also being “one of the best to develop” talent “because of his faith [in us].”

For 2019, Busio became a full-fledged member of the MLS squad, making 16 total appearances and scoring three goals. Serie A side Fiorentina reportedly lodged a transfer offer of more than $3 million. Genoa, Manchester United, Inter Milan, and a few other clubs were also said to have interest. Kansas City has a fairly high valuation on the player, said to be in the range of $10 million.

After making 19 appearances during the COVID-shortened season, the breakthrough finally appears to have come in 2020. Staring all nine matches, Busio has contributed two goals and one assist. As his performances continue to improve, his time in MLS appears to be coming to an end. Sporting turned down offers for years, but a move must be made before his contract expires at the end of 2022.

Despite not being “in a rush” to leave, interest has swelled, with multiple clubs “tire-kicking.” According to his agent, teams from France, England, Italy, and the Netherlands have made “inquiries,” and ESPN reported that Barcelona has him “under consideration.” As of “two weeks ago,” there are two unnamed offers for an immediate transfer this summer, coming from the group of Fiorentina, Sassuolo, and Parma.

As his club career continues to flourish, his senior international debut could be coming soon at the upcoming Gold Cup. Busio has been a regular within the national team setup, beginning with the U-15 level. The teenager started and played 90 minutes in all three matches at the 2019 U-17 World Cup, serving as captain in the scoreless draw against Japan. He is also eligible to play for Italy through his father, who was raised in Brescia. Every summer, the family would spend a month visiting relatives. According to Tom Bogert of MLSSoccer.com, the Azzurri “continues to monitor” and “have reached out to his camp.”

Busio is highly versatile, capable of playing at all three central midfielder positions and striker, tending to drift to the left side of the field. This constantly shuffling at Kansas City may have hindered his development in the short term, forcing him to learn a variety of roles without fully acclimating to a preferred spot. His recent deployment at the six instead of the ten has presented a possible glimpse into his future with the national team, although he may project higher in the formation. At the very least, the experimentation is crafting him into a well-rounded player, aided by his willingness to play anywhere that will “help the team win games.”

“One of the toughest parts of this position is [the] focus on defending,” he told OneGoal. “It’s something I have to get better at. I’m learning each week. I also want to get better at picking out the right pass. As a [ten] you have the freedom to be creative, but as a [six], you have to choose your moments… when to hit the killer pass and when to keep it and move from side to side… I’m a [ten] at heart.”

According to Half Spaces, one of his strongest suits is “initiating offense” and “facilitating possession” by dropping deep and picking the right line-splitting pass in the build-up. His usage statistics are both prolific and accurate, displaying a high level of confidence for a young player. He has a fantastic work rate, getting involved all over the field and moving without the ball. The main area for improvement is becoming a better defender, which is understandable considering most of his career has been spent in a more attacking role. Last season, Robert Rusert of The Blue Statement observed some troubling habits including ball watching and a lack of urgency, sometimes opening up Kansas City to dangerous counter-attacks. However, his acclimation to the new position has enabled him to “control everything,” while time in the weight room is helping develop his ability to disrupt and shut down opponents.

A truly exciting summer could be ahead for Busio, as he has enough time to establish himself at a foreign club and raise his level of play in advance of the next World Cup. With multiple offers confirmed, it’s only a matter of time before more teams register official interest. What would have once been an unexpected and hallmark moment for American soccer has become the routine, as a player is ready to secure a big move and take the well worn path to Europe. While this is the new normal, every transfer saga manages to be exciting and creates hope for the emergence of the next potential star for the USMNT.