Gianluca Busio jogged onto Sporting Kansas City’s practice field Friday, trying to blend in as casually as possible. But for a 15-year-old who only hours earlier inked a deal to became the youngest signing in franchise history, that attempt got off to a rocky start.
“Watch your language,” he heard one Sporting KC player shout. “There’s a kid out here.”
“It’s Freddy Adu,” said another.
On Friday, Sporting Kansas City introduced Busio as the second youngest signing in Major League Soccer history. At 15 years and 89 days old, he is older than only Adu, who was 14 when he signed with D.C. United in 2004.
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Busio’s contract runs through the 2020 season, with team options for 2021 and 2022. It’s a deal that came together over the past few months, as Busio increased his international stature in stints with the United States national team and standout play with the Sporting Kansas City Academy. He scored five goals with the Americans in the CONCACAF U-15 championship earlier this month.
Busio was told to keep the negotiations tight-lipped until it was made official. On the response when that finally took place Friday, Busio said, “I probably got a lot of Snapchats.”
That included one from his older brother, Matteo, 20, whom Busio credits with a big piece of his development. Busio grew up in Greensboro, N.C., playing against his Matteo and his buddies rather that kids his own age.
Along with an older sister, they often played inside a family living room just big enough to line up shoes to serve as the goalposts.
“You should come to my house — there was no glass in any of the picture frames,” said Dionne Sills Busio, Gianluca’s mom. “After the 10th time something got broken in the living room, I stopped trying.”
They outgrew the space, of course. And Busio outgrew his traveling club.
He joined the Sporting KC Academy in the summer of 2016, after the team scouted him in a showcase in Texas, spurning offers from other MLS clubs and turning down some European interest. He lives with a host family in Kansas City and takes online classes in pursuit of his high school diploma.
“It was traumatic when he left,” Sills Busio said. “I kept saying, ‘No, you’re not ready.’ But really, his dad and I were the ones who weren’t ready.
“He was ready. He was relentless in wanting to pursue this.”
In his first season under the Sporting KC brand, Busio featured for the academy’s Under-18, U-16 and U-14 teams and totaled 13 goals. He projects to start the 2017-18 season — which opens in September — with the U-17 club.
As for the long-term future, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes acknowledged that Busio could receive an invite to preseason next February, perhaps with the franchise B team, the Swope Park Rangers. But that’s far from settled.
On Friday, Vermes preempted the question as to when Busio might actually don a Sporting KC uniform for the first time.
“Player development is driven by the player,” Vermes said. “I could be the best motivator in the world. If the player is not motivated, it’s not going to happen. When you can marry the two — you can marry a motivated staff with players that are incredibly motivated themselves — that’s how players get there.”
The talent won’t be questioned. Even in tournament showcases and international competitions, Busio sticks out, beyond the bleached, long, curly locks atop his head.
He is most noted for his finishing ability, and he likes to describe his style as “a little flashy.”
“Everything he does just jumps off the page,” Sporting Kansas City Academy director Jon Parry said, later adding, “He scores goals at every level. ... He’s extremely driven and mature for his age. He’s got a great soccer IQ. He’s ready for this next step.”
But he’s not immune to the Adu comparisons — yes, not even from his teammates. Adu was labeled as the future of American soccer when he inked his 2004 contract. Within a month, he scored his first MLS goal. But he failed to fulfill the expectations and has played for 13 teams in a decade.
That story is not lost on Busio.
“I feel like I’m just going to work on me,” Busio said. “I’m going to try my best to stay on track and just get better every day. I’m not worried about what people say about me. If I’m focused on that track, it doesn’t matter who anybody compares me to.”
For now, Busio is taking some time to enjoy the moment — and a bulked-up bank account. He already purchased three Apple watches — one for himself and one for each of his siblings.
He has sought financial guidance from experts, who have advised him to save and invest. Thus, he has settled on a monthly allowance for personal expenditures.
After all, he said, he needs a way to purchase FIFA Soccer every year.
“I’m still a kid,” he said with a shrug. “Just with a little more money.”