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Busio and Freeman with U-17 Men’s National Team kickoff qualifying

The U-17 Men’s National Team start group play as they attempt to win the CONCACAF Championship and qualify for the U-17 World Cup.

Gianluca Busio scoring one of his three MLS goals this year
Thad Bell

Gianluca Busio and Tyler Freeman will look to make the most of their opportunity and help the United States Under-17 Men’s National Team qualify for the U-17 World Cup as well as become the confederation champions. At 5 p.m. today (Thursday) they will face Canada in their opening match as the U.S. will attempt to qualify for their 17th U-17 World Cup.

The two young Sporting Kansas City homegrown players have both made multiple appearances for the youth national teams. Freeman reported to camp with most of the team on the 25th while Busio stayed with Sporting KC until after the New England Revolution match.

“We arrived here last week and had a really good training week so far. Finally, [Tuesday] we were complete with Daniel Leyva from Seattle and Gianluca Busio arrived a day earlier so we are complete now. We are all happy and ready to start this tournament,” U-17 MNT head coach Raphael Wicky told media via conference call.

Busio has made seven appearances with four starts and three goals for Sporting KC this year while Freeman has not appeared for SKC yet, but he has played in two matches for the Swope Park Rangers, their USL affiliate.

“It’s an awesome opportunity and I get to see all the boys again and hopefully qualify for the World Cup,” Sporting KC forward Freeman told The Blue Testament.

Manchester City v FC Basel - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
U17 MNT head coach Raphael Wicky
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

An Amazing Mentality

“I think this group has an amazing mentality which is a big factor for every team,” coach Wicky explained. “Besides the individual quality we have and the individual talent of the different players, it’s all about being a team, forming a team, bonding together, liking being together. I had this impression from the first moment I met them.”

“I always say it’s almost impossible to be all friends in a team, at least that is my experience when I was a player you don’t have to be friends but at the end of the day it’s nice if they like to hang out with each other and that is the feeling that I get,” coach Wicky continued. “Even players who are in competition with each other for the same spot, they hang out together, they encourage each other in training sessions. This mentality, this team spirit of wanting to achieve something together, knowing that it only works together is a big point for this team.”

The players with the U-17’s have been together in various camps and tournaments and have practically grown up together. Both Busio and Freeman spoke about that relationship with the team before they left.

Tyler Freeman playing with Swope Park
Thad Bell

Since Busio was getting time with SKC he did not go to the previous camp and was looking forward to being back with the team. “I’m excited, I haven’t played with those guys in a long time. It will be nice to see them again, they are my good friends, I’ve known them throughout my national team years. They are my friends and I can’t wait to get on the field with them.”

“They are all pretty much a second family,” Freeman echoed.

Coach Wicky has been impressed with the players he has available, but it seems he is more impressed by how they play together. “We want to be dominant on the ball and off the ball but first I want to see a team that works together in all phases of the game. When I was watching footage of this team, I saw that they work really hard and that have a lot of energy and I think that is the strength of this team. It is a very positive point. Besides all the individual qualities that we have, because we have really good players, I want to see a team work together and put everything into the game.”

Gaining Experience

One of the obvious benefits of the young players getting a chance to be a part of these teams is the experience the get in big matches and against various styles.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes understands that as well as anyone. “Playing international games is always good for your development as a player, those are different experiences for players and it gives them an opportunity to appreciate that environment and also have an appreciation for the environment they come from.”

For Busio, at just 16-years-old, it has been a while since he has played with and against players his own age and he is looking forward to it. “To qualify for the World Cup is number one but to also have a fun experience while getting to the World Cup, growing and getting better as a team and me as a player to keep moving forward. It will be nice to play with guys my age again.”

Not that Busio is wanting to play against guys his own age, but he is also looking to see the guys he will play against in the future. “Everybody around the world plays differently so especially playing guys that are our age and seeing how they are playing at this time and how we are playing, because these are the guys we will be playing down the road in ten years. It’s nice to get an early look at them and see how we can compete with the talents across the world,” Busio explained.

Qualifying can be tough, just ask the senior team. At least the U-17’s are not playing on a drenched field in Trinidad but they still know it is never easy. “CONCACAF is going to be a lot tougher; it’s going to be pretty scrappy games, so you alter how you play, how you go into matches. It’s going to be difficult, but we are up to the task at hand,” Freeman stated.

“Nothing less than qualify,” is what both Sporting KC players stated when asked about what they expected from the tournament. “Be nice to show players in camp what Sporting KC is producing with these young players,” Busio also added.

When asked if any of the older and more experienced players had any advice for them, Busio said it was one simple thing.

“Just come back healthy.”

How to watch and stream

All tournament matches will be streamed on Concacaf Facebook and A select number of matches, including all three of the USA’s group stage matches, are scheduled to be broadcast on Univision Deportes Network.

May 2 at 5 p.m. CT vs Canada

May 4 at 5 p.m. CT vs Barbados

May 6 at 5 p.m. CT vs Guatemala

All of the tournament’s matches will take place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.