Sporting KC Defeat Houston Dynamo Behind Gianluca Busio Debut: Three Observations

Gianluca Busio
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 04: Houston Dynamo defender Leonardo (22) tackles Sporting Kansas City forward Gianluca Busio (13) during the soccer match between Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo on August 4, 2018 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editorial (August 5, 2018) – Sporting KC were spurred onto a massive road victory by the youngest member of their 2018 youth movement. 16 year old Gianluca Busio became the second youngest player to ever play in MLS, and the third youngest to record an assist. His beautiful flick into the path of Diego Rubio gave Sporting KC the goal it needed to turn the tide. Here are three observations from their 1-0 Win against Houston:

Gianluca Busio is Well Beyond his Years

Gianluca Busio became the third youngest player to start a match in MLS History on Saturday night, as Peter Vermes gave him the nod against the Houston Dynamo. Vermes joked in his postgame press conference last week that he would start him. Turned out not to be a joke after all.

The 16-year-old put in a shift that not even some seasoned professionals could. He got beaten and battered off the ball, subject to a few blows above the shoulder, one that resulted in a straight red card to Alejandro Fuenmayor. His stat line on the night was impressive though. He had one assist, two key passes, and completed 34/39 passes made. Peter Vermes called him their Man of the Match in his postgame interviews:

“For a 16-year old to play in a game like this at the level that he did consistently for 90 minutes, he took some shots, physically, but he never got rattled, and he easily could have. For me, he was the Man of the Match. Not only because he was 16, but because he played very well in the game. He was mature for a 16-year old. He has a bright future.”

Busio was incredibly impressive coming off the bench in Sporting’s 3-2 loss to FC Dallas last week. With Roger Espinoza out on a yellow card suspension, and Felipe Gutierrez back on the field, Vermes clearly felt like Saturday’s match was the right time to give Busio his chance. It’s a little early to say whether or not we’ll continue to see more of him, as he probably made the decision out of necessity rather than best choice available, although he’ll never admit that. But it’s pretty clear that Busio has a bright future ahead of him, and Saturday night was just the start.

Sporting KC Need A Temporary Solution at No. 9

Sporting KC are in a weird spot. They’ve been able to win games and get results despite the fact that they have only one true “starter” option at the striker position. While Diego Rubio’s 100% conversion rate as a substitute is impressive, it hasn’t translated over in his minutes as a starter, and Sporting KC lack a little in terms of the defensive effort from up front. Saturday night they tried out Yohan Croizet as the lone striker and he ended up getting pulled after a futile 60 minutes. Croizet never put a shot on target and his first touch ruined a significant amount of attacking moves that were to go through him.

Here is the thing, if Khiry Shelton were healthy I wouldn’t quite be advocating for them to add a no. 9. I think he’s an excellent first choice for how they want to play, and he has seen the quality in chances he’s created go up as he grows into the role. But the fact that he won’t be back for another 6-8 weeks, while it’s an accelerated timeline, it just doesn’t help them. The way I see it, Sporting can do one of two things:

  1. They can just slide Salloi into the central striker role, and play whatever mixture of Johnny Russell, Christian Lobato, and Gerso Fernandes they want out on the wings. Salloi does have two goals and two assists from the Central Striker role this season, and despite the fact that it’s not his favorite position to play, he’s their best option there on the healthy roster right now.
  2. They can go out and add another striker that could give them 60-70 minutes a night at the spot allowing Diego Rubio to come in off the bench for 20 or 30 minutes if Sporting are in need of a goal late. He’s mastered the super-sub role, and Sporting KC will get the best out of him in those instances. This sounds a lot easier than it is, since they have about three days to actually do that. The Summer Transfer Window in MLS closes on Wednesday, August 8th.

I’d personally elect for the latter, because Sporting KC are better off with Salloi on the wing, and a defensive forward who can play with the ball at their feet. While most of the time the “Go get a striker crowd” is advocating for a Designated Player quality striker, I really think SKC need just a decent second option as a defensive forward/hold up man. They have three strikers on the roster, and all three are very different players. Depth wise, that doesn’t benefit a team with a very set system like Sporting KC.

The Backline Issues Aren’t Quite “Gone”

Yes, they got a clean sheet. Yes, Seth Sinovic put in the best shift of the season. No, they weren’t entirely convincing. The biggest area of concern was that the backline, multiple times were unable to account for the overlapping player which resulted in a few dangerous crosses in from the end-line. They also got caught with their center backs a little too high a couple times (Both Besler and Opara were guilty), which resulted in big chances for Houston. So was there anything encouraging?

One of the biggest improvement from the backline that we saw this weekend was their management of clearances. A culprit for about 6 of the 17 goals they gave up during their winless stretch was failed clearances. Last night they managed every clearance situation correctly, and while nervy at times were able to both completely clear, or pass out of every situation. A lot of times that’s just down to simple decision making, which Vermes has blamed a lot of their goals against on this year. Last night’s decision making from the backline was the best it has been in a while.

Why should there still be some concern? Well, they played up a man for 76 minutes. That will always help your goals against number. But, the real test will come in the coming weeks as not all their opponents are going to go down a man with that much time left. I’m not convinced this team is out of the weeds until they prove they can hold down the fort regularly without Medranda on the field. His return is key to the backline’s form. But if he can’t come back, they’re going to have to be much sharper as the season goes on.

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