Here’s the Canadian Premier League’s first player saga – a “will he or won’t he” scenario that leaves clubs, supporters, and players in suspense.
Yes, it’s Marco Bustos.
The 23-year-old suited up for Valour FC in 2019 and impressed for the struggling Winnipeggers, scoring a team-high seven goals and notching three assists across 25 matches. Many of Bustos’ goals were highlight-reel moments, showing a level of individual brilliance CPL clubs have certainly noticed.
Bustos has been quiet since his contract expired over the New Year, but there has been lots of speculation about where he goes from here. Pacific FC and Forge FC are said to be in the running alongside Valour, according to OneSoccer’s Kurt Larson.
So, with a big move set to shake up the CPL landscape, we asked CanPL.ca’s John Molinaro, Armen Bedakian, Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, and Marty Thompson where should Marco Bustos land?
Thompson: Pacific FC
Calling all former Whitecaps players…
Bustos is one of few missing pieces to Pacific FC’s Whitecaps Academy spin-off – and a big one at that. He fits Pacific’s style perfectly” smart on the ball, direct, and quick. He also possesses an ability to finish some pretty low-percentage chances which, if I’m newly-appointed coach Pa-Modou Kah, I’m desperate to add. PFC only had six multi-goalscorers in 2019 – and only Terran Campbell (11), Ben Fisk (6), and Victor Blasco (6) had more than three. The more consistent goalscorers and creators Pacific can get for 2020 the better.
At 23, Bustos would be a perfect veteran leader for this team; young enough to relate to, but senior enough to instruct and lead. Joining an up-and-coming side is the next logical step for an MLS-fringe player such as Bustos. Double your goalscoring total and take a team towards a Finals run? That’ll be a useful piece on his resume for a return to MLS or the Canadian men’s national team.
O’Connor-Clarke: Cavalry FC
Hear me out here. Cavalry FC, the highest-scoring team in the league in 2019, might not immediately spring to mind when considering teams that could use some attacking help. However, judging by the player news announced so far, it’s possible there might be a Marco Bustos-shaped hole in the Cavs lineup.
Neither Nico Pasquotti nor Jose Escalante, Cavalry’s dynamic wingers of choice, has re-signed for the 2020 season. It’s certainly possible they’ll be back, but if not, that’s a major blow to Cavalry’s dangerous multi-faceted attack. Bustos spent some time at attacking midfield for Valour, but he was equally potent as a winger. He’s great one-on-one and he can cut in from the flank to fire off a shot or a key pass.
Sounds a little like Pasquotti and Escalante, no? Of course, he doesn’t quite have the flashy long throw-ins of Pasquotti, or Escalante’s ability to get under an opponent’s skin, but he’s probably a better, more creative playmaker than either of the two. His seven goals and three assists were the product of Bustos’ play as one of the CPL’s most exciting players. Imagine what he could do if teamed up with a better midfield and backline, like Cavalry has.
Frankly, if Bustos were to cross over to the dark side, so to speak, and join the league’s most dominant regular-season team, Cavalry would be a terrifying force.
RELATED READING: CPL off-season roster tracker: Who’s in and who’s out for 2020?
Bedakian: Valour FC
There is no single team in the Canadian Premier League that can offer Marco Bustos the sort of unbridled central starring role that Valour FC currently affords the 23-year-old, and, truth be told, it may be in his best career interest to stay in Winnipeg and fight it out instead of switching over to another outfit and hoping for something more. In fact, a move to another CPL team might just be the worst possible option on the table for the young, talented attacking midfielder.
But, before you sharpen your pitchforks, here’s my line of thinking: Bustos isn’t going to find a team in this league that is willing to build around his talents, make him the starring man, and compliment his specific talents and traits … at least, not in 2020.
Pacific FC has half a dozen other players like Bustos looking to become that guy. Forge has Tristan Borges, and even if they didn’t, there’s Kadell Thomas, Chris Nanco, and David Choiniere to contend with. York9 FC plays a very specific style of play that doesn’t really require nimble wingers so much as it demands a level of physicality that Bustos isn’t likely to develop, regardless of how defined his core may look in selfies. FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus has been pretty unwavering in his Edmontonian-first mantra. HFX Wanderers FC would be a lateral move; Cavalry FC couldn’t even guarantee him a starting role.
Could Bustos move to any other CPL team and thrive? Of course he would. He’s a talented player, and there are so few like him in the league anyway.
But, if Bustos, who is in the same age range as so many talented young Canadian attackers, is looking to differentiate and distinguish himself among his peers, the more noble approach of sticking by his hometown club and fighting it out immediately affords him a ton of credibility, and makes him the central figure in a lineup that would, truth be told, rely upon his talents more than any other. If successful, that means more goals, more highlight reel moments, more headlines, more attention, more star power, and, more likely, a call-up to Canada and a move to MLS or Europe, at his discretion.
He can do all of this elsewhere, of course. But will he be able to do it as quickly, and as well-supported as he can in Valour? Doubtful.
Molinaro: HFX Wanderers FC
Sometimes you need a fresh start, and getting out of town is the best way to go when you want to begin all over again. The best thing for Bustos could be to move as far away as he can from Winnipeg . In this case, starting anew on the East Coast could be just the thing for Bustos to jumpstart his career.
Things are happening at HFX Wanderers FC this off-season, with coach Stephen Hart rebuilding his roster ahead of the 2020 campaign after seeing his team finish bottom of the table in 2019. Hart has kept a solid core of players from last year to build upon (Christian Oxner, Andre Rampersad, Akeem Garcia, Peter Schaale), but he’s also brought in some new faces, most notably former Valour star Louis Béland-Goyette. Bustos would make another welcome addition to Hart’s squad.
Scoring was a major problem for the Wanderers in 2019, as they netted a league-low 21 goals. Garcia led the team in scoring with eight goals, and only one other player scored five – Luis Alberto Perea, who has been released. Bustos, with seven goals for Valour in 2019, would give HFX attack a big boost with his scoring ability, and add some much-needed creativity to what was a stagnant midfield last year. Not only would Bustos be reunited with Béland-Goyette, but he’d also be the main reference point in attack for Hart’s HFX side.