When Gianluca Busio met with Sporting Kansas City’s management as a prospective academy player, they provided him a tour of the first-team facilities, hoping it might serve as motivational foreshadow for his future.
That future will arrive sooner than perhaps even he anticipated.
Sporting Kansas City has agreed to terms with the 15-year-old Busio on a homegrown contract, a source told The Star on Thursday.
Three months after his 15th birthday, Busio will be the youngest signing in Sporting KC history, surpassing homegrown talent Erik Palmer-Brown, who signed with the club at age 16 in August 2013. Palmer-Brown made his debut with Sporting KC nine months later.
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Busio is the second youngest player ever to sign an MLS contract. Freddy Adu was 14 when he signed with D.C. United in 2004.
Busio, a forward who can play any of the five offensive positions, is expected to spend the upcoming season with the Sporting Kansas City Academy Under-17 team. The academy teams began preseason earlier this month. Busio joined the academy in the summer of 2016 after the club scouted him at a showcase tournament.
Busio, who celebrated his 15th birthday on May 28, is originally from North Carolina and opted to join the SKC Academy over offers from several others in MLS. The facilities caught his attention, he said.
The competition lured him in.
“Since I was little, I liked playing against older kids because I’m really competitive and want to play against the best,” Busio told The Star during an interview in January. “Here, everyone is pushing me to be better. I don’t want to be an average player. I want to be a top player.”
Busio split the bulk of last year with the SKC Academy Under-16 and Under-14 teams, though he finished the year with the Under-18 club.
He is a regular member in the United States youth national team program. He recently returned from Florida, where he represented the United States at the CONCACAF U-15 championship. The Americans placed second in the tournament, with Busio serving as its star forward. He scored five goals in five matches, including a pair of braces in the group stage.
Busio has a rare combination of speed, tactical and technical ability. He’s deadly on free kicks and is known to be adept in 1-on-1 situations.
His flair on the international stage only increased European interest that bubbled a year ago. When he agreed to join the SKC Academy, he had already attracted the eyes of a couple of English Premier League scouts, which in January he acknowledged was an enticing option.
The first-team contract ensures that even if Busio does pursue a future in Europe, Sporting KC would either receive a transfer fee or retain his MLS rights. But Sporting KC believes his path for a professional career is in Kansas City.
Busio’s family still lives in North Carolina. He lives with a host family in Kansas City and takes online high school courses.
While each MLS team is assigned a homegrown territory — which is off limits to other MLS clubs — North Carolina is not allotted to any particular team. That gave Busio his pick of the bunch. Sporting KC has increased its resources in the unassigned areas of the country. In the past year-plus, it added six scouts on stipends whose primary job is to find potential academy players.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes has pinpointed the academy as the way of the team’s future — as an alternative to spending millions on transfer players. In turn, the club has supplied significant financial investment into the academy and last season added the Swope Park Rangers, a USL affiliate, as a bridge between the youth teams and Sporting KC.
“We have to develop our own players. We have to,” Vermes said in an interview earlier this year. “We’re not going to be investing millions of dollars into a few players. We have to take that money and invest it in a structure that will create those players ourselves.
“That’s going to be the key that will keep us competitive.”
The successful recruitment of Busio was seen as a victory there. Upon joining the academy, he immediately rose to the top of the club’s prospects list.
When Vermes laid out his vision for the future, it included those young players progressing through the academy before a promotion to the Swope Park Rangers — who play a system identical to Sporting KC — to serve as a natural step before an eventual debut with the first team.
For more than a year, Busio has been seen as a fit for that pipeline. A first-team contract infuses legitimacy to the long-term process.