A series of Sporting Kansas City records were broken as soon as the center referee blew his whistle Wednesday night, each of them intertwined with a wave of youth.
In its 2018 U.S. Open Cup victory against Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC trotted out the youngest player in franchise history; the team fielded a lineup comprised of three teenagers for the first time; and the franchise concluded the evening with four homegrown players of the field, another Sporting KC first.
How soon will the feats be repeated?
Sporting KC learned Thursday its next match in the Open Cup will come on June 16, a home date with FC Dallas in the Round of 16. It’s a rematch of perhaps the best game Sporting KC played in 2017, a quarterfinal in the Open Cup on its way to last year's tournament trophy. In that game, coach Peter Vermes used mostly his first-rate lineup.
The rematch offers an opportunity to stick with the kids.
“It’s hard for me to predict this far away from the match, for a number of reasons,” Vermes said in a Thursday phone interview. “But you can’t deny the fact that all the guys played very, very well. That’s a great step in a positive direction to gain trust, but also to garnish more time.”
Making his Sporting KC debut, 16-year-old Gianluca Busio highlighted the young lineup, which averaged just 24.16 years in age. Busio, the youngest player to appear in a match in franchise history, was joined on the field by 18-year-old Jaylin Lindsey and 19-year-old Wan Kuzain, whose senior team debuts arrived in the last two weeks.
“I said to (Busio) on the field, ‘I hope you realize you’re getting the start because you deserve it, not because we’re just trying to give you a game,’” Vermes said.
And that’s been the theme of youth movement in Kansas City — Vermes insisting the players are ready, not merely putting them on the field to gain experience.
The group produced a 2-0 win Wednesday at Real Salt Lake, with Johnny Russell and Kharlton Belmar scoring. Belmar had a goal and assist in his first start with Sporting KC and made a case for more time.
A congested schedule and a lengthening injury list played factors in his appearance, along with those of other reserves. The schedule will be lighter for the next round of the Open Cup, with Sporting KC enjoying a six-day break beforehand. The injuries aren’t certain to present the same scenarios, either.
But there’s at least some motivation to supply the homegrown talent with another game.
“There’s no better way to evaluate them than real games. You wanna see how they’re going to respond,” Vermes said. “It’s not just in the game overall. It’s certain situations. How do they respond to a mistake? Do they disappear down the rabbit hole, or do they pull themselves up? Those are the things that are really important to be able to evaluate. And they all responded well.”