Sporting KC begin US Open Cup defense in "efficient" manner as Busio debuts

SANDY, Utah -- Defending U.S. Open Cup champion Sporting KC opened their title defense with a 2-0 victory over fellow MLS side Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

Johnny Russell scored and assisted for Kansas City, as did Kharlton Belmar. While Belmar, who usually plays for Sporting's USL side Swope Park Rangers, took advantage of the playing time with the first team, Russell hadn’t scored since his hat trick on April 20 against Vancouver, but he also hadn’t played centrally yet in his time in Kansas City.

“I started my career through the middle. It was only when I went to England that I went out wide,” Russell said. “It’s my natural position and it’s a position I have wanted to play for a while. The coaches said we’re going to try something new and I’m just grateful that they put me in and I could be involved in the goals as well.”

His goal and assist in the Fourth Round on Wednesday adds to the five goals and three assists he has so far in the MLS season. None of that was much of a surprise to Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes.

“I have always thought he could do some damage underneath,” Vermes said. “He was pretty good there today. He took a little time to get in the game, but once he did he started to become dangerous and we started to find him and he caused both goals.”

Moving Russell "in the hole" behind Belmar wasn’t the only change Kansas City made. They played seven players outside of their usual starting XI and used four Homegrown players on the field. It was mostly out of necessity, but Vermes found the game plan that matched what he wanted to do having played on Sunday and having to travel to both Salt Lake and Portland this week.

“It was important for us to manage our roster in a way that we thought we could get the result, at the same time being able to be efficient in our roster and giving some guys a rest,” Vermes said. “The way we put our game plan together kept us really efficient, we didn’t waste a lot of energy and we picked our chances when we could and stuck the ball away which made the game a lot easier.”

Playing with a lead also allowed Vermes a look at the composed play of the youngest player ever to suit up for Sporting KC, Gianluca Busio. He’s the second-youngest player to ever sign for an MLS team and earned his first start for the MLS club on Wednesday. Busio went the full 90 minutes just weeks after his 16th birthday.

“One, he was very confident and two, he made good decisions with the ball,” Vermes said. “He’s a very mature kid for his age. You would have to be to be out in that environment and do well.”