It's somewhat of a bittersweet moment for rising star Gianluca Busio.
The "sweet" portion of the concoction heavily outweighs its inverse and is easily identifiable. The 16-year-old, through match congestion and injury, forced himself through as crowded a midfield in MLS to carve a regular role with Sporting Kansas City, where he has made full use of the opportunities, scoring three goals.
Internationally, Busio is currently starring for the US U-17 men's national team at the Concacaf Championship, where his five goals are tied for second in the competition as he has helped lead his side to clinch qualification for the U-17 World Cup, preparing for a semifinal against Canada. Tab Ramos revealed he was one of three U-17 eligible players who received consideration for the U-20 World Cup roster, which Ramos called the deepest he's ever had.
But the tournament runs during the MLS season, which lends to the "bitter" part of Busio's concoction. SKC haven't earned a win since March 30 and are amid an injury crisis so extensive that Peter Vermes could only name four substitutes to the bench on Sunday.
“It’s definitely tough watching your team not do so well and you can’t do anything to help," Busio told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. "I’ll be back there as soon as the tournament is over and hopefully we can turn things around together. Every team has slumps, it sucks I can’t be there with them. But I’m here, we’re going to get through this and I’m focused on this now. Then I’ll go back to Kansas City and we’ll figure things out."
Busio, who turns 17 on May 28, will be back with his club soon enough. For now, he's singularly focused on success with the U-17s.
The United States face northern neighbors Canada in the semifinal on Tuesday at 5:30 pm ET, a team they have already played in the group stage. It was their opening game, too, and Canada took an unexpected 2-0 lead into halftime. After the break, though, it was all US. Busio scored the first goal, sparking a comeback that ended in a 3-2 victory.
They won't take Canada lightly this time around.
“It was definitely a wake-up call," Busio said. "We went in there thinking it might be an easy game, but then they scored two goals and it woke us up a little bit. We knew what we had to do, we weren’t too worried. Once the second half started, we were flying once they blew the whistle. ... They’ll come with more energy because we beat them one time, they’ll have a grudge against us. It’s always harder beating a team twice. It’ll be a tough match-up but we’ll be ready.”
If they prevail, it sets up a final against either Mexico or Haiti.
“We’re pretty confident," Busio said. "We’re scoring goals, winning games and defending well—we’re on our home turf. That has a lot to do with it. We have the feeling that we have to go forward, win it all and prove that this is our home and we don’t lose at home.”
Regardless of what happens in the semis or final, the United States have booked their place in the U-17 World Cup. Busio hopes it's just another step in the steep ascension he's on.
“I’m excited," Busio said. "It’s always been a dream of mine to play in some kind of World Cup – obviously I want to play in the big one – but this is the first step. The best players in the world now have played in the U-17 World Cup. It’s going to be in Brazil and the atmosphere is going to be unreal.”