Gianluca Busio is in the midst of his first U.S. men’s national team camp, and preparing for the first senior competition of his budding international career, but his perspective on the opportunity tells you all you need to know about what a competitor the teenage midfielder is.
The Sporting Kansas City sensation stands poised to make his USMNT at the Concacaf Gold Cup, and do so in the stadium where he plays professionally, but none of that has stopped Busio from seeing the possibilities that lie even beyond this month’s continental competition.
The Gold Cup is very much an audition of sorts for places on the full-strength USMNT squad for World Cup qualifying, beginning in September, and Busio
“Obviously, it’s going to be hard for anyone to make the World Cup qualifying roster, I think, for me especially, as my first camp,” Busio said on Friday. “So I’m taking this as kind of a trial for that. I want to play well enough to where he has to call me into qualifying. That’s something that I’m focused on and one of the things that I’m trying to get out of this camp.”
It might sound like an ambitious goal for the 19-year-old, but you can understand the confidence given just how well he has been playing for Sporting KC. Busio has blossomed in the heart of the SKC midfield, embracing a deep-lying midfield role that has showed off both his passing ability and his ever-improving defensive qualities.
“I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s playing,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Mostly at the number six, but also we see him also being able to play an attacking midfield position.
“It’s about timing. It’s about form, and his time and his come,” Berhalter said. “He’s done a great job. I’m really looking forward to getting him in camp and working with him, but also testing him at international level.
“He will play in games, you know, you guys will see him on the field. For me, it’s a great opportunity to see what he can do.”
Busio has made a smooth transition into a defensive midfield role for Sporting KC despite having played in a more advanced attacking role throughout his young career. His ability to play in any of the central midfield roles in the USMNT system should boost his chances of seeing consistent playing time at the Gold Cup, though it remains to been where he will ultimately settle positionally under Berhalter.
Kellyn Acosta and Jackson Yueill are the contenders for the defensive midfield role on the Gold Cup squad, while Busio finds himself competing with established veterans Sebastian Lletget and Cristian Roldan in the attacking midfield positions, alongside Eryk Williamson.
Busio enters the Gold Cup in outstanding form, as one of the key reasons behind Sporting Kansas City’s strong start to the 2021 season. SKC head coach Peter Vermes has entrusted Busio with a prominent role playing deeper in midfield, a role that has allowed Busio to round out his game and strengthen the defensive aspects of his profile, which is why European clubs are lining up to try and buy the promising midfielder (with sources telling SBI that newly-promoted Serie A side Venezia is working to finalize a transfer).
“Peter has been has been great for me. He’s been my coach my whole professional career, and he’s been excellent for me,” Busio said. “He’s taught me more attacking wise, and especially this year, he’s helped me defensively. I’ve been playing the six a lot. He’s always been big on the defensive side of the game. I think that’s something that I can improve on, and I’m trying to improve on, and this year especially he’s really worked with me on that.
“He’s taught me how to keep my intensity up and always be focused on the game and be ready for anything,” Busio said. “That’s something that I’ve been working on also, but he’s been huge for that.”
Busio is one of a long list of new faces in the current USMNT squad, a group that heads into the Gold Cup as an underdog to win the competition. Mexico has brought a close to full-strength team to the Gold Cup, which has El Tri firmly entrenched as the tournament favorite, but that isn’t discouraging Busio or his teammates from believing they can add a second trophy to the USMNT trophy case this summer.
“We’re focused on on making it to the final on winning, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Busio said. “Coming off a big win in the Nation’s League, it shows that we can do it, and it may not be the same group, but it just shows the passion that we’re playing with now, and showing that we can do it.
“There were a lot of young guys also on that field, playing in a final like that, that’s big,” Busio said. “It shows us that we can do it, and with the right amount of work and passion, we can do the same thing.”
That is what Berhalter is banking on, and his success integrating young players into the USMNT mix has given him even more confidence that Busio is ready for the challenge he will face at the Gold Cup.
“He’s been playing so well, that this is just a natural time for him to make this step now,” Berhalter said. “He’s still a young player, but that doesn’t matter. We have a lot of young players in the program. Look at Gio Reyna in the nation, what he did. Same age, same year of birth (as Busio).
“We think this is a moment for him and I’m just really anxious to see how he can perform with our group because I think he’s a really talented player, really calm player for his age, and I think he can make a big impact with us.”
That may sound like a lot to ask of a young player, but to his credit, Busio is embracing the mounting expectations surrounding his looming USMNT debut.
“(Berhalter) called me up for a reason,” Busio said. “I deserve the call-up and now it’s time for me to show that that he made the right decision and show everybody that I can do it on a national level.”