Marco Bustos enjoys dominant Valour debut in ‘crazy, busy week’

To say it’s been a whirlwind week for Marco Bustos would be an understatement.

The 23-year-old Canadian attacking midfielder put pen to paper on his contract with Valour FC, then drove 20 hours from Oklahoma City to Winnipeg, moved back home, trained with Rob Gale’s side on Friday, and then took part in 90 minutes of action at Investors Group Field on Saturday, helping his new team record its first home victory in a 1-0 win over HFX Wanderers.

Bustos, who has 57 appearances for Whitecaps 2 and was most recently with OKC Energy in the USL-Championship, enjoyed a stellar debut, filling in admirably in the frontline of a depleted Valour side, sans the usual suspects of Stephen Hoyle and Michael Petrasso.

Returning to his hometown of Winnipeg and finally playing in front of about 30 family members and friends for the first time, Bustos told reporters after the match that he was “just glad to come in and be a part of the first win here,” but admitted, too, that’s it’s been a “crazy, busy week.”

Still, you wouldn’t be able to tell, based on some of Bustos’ key performance metrics.

Here’s the breakdown: Bustos led his team in shots (3), shots on goal (2), touches (75), passes (55), passing accuracy (players over 10 passes, 92.7%), passes in the opposition’s half (33), and crosses (3). But the stats tell just one story – his work rate and presence across the park tells the other. Bustos wasn’t just pinging passes and connecting with his new teammates from one position; he made sure to get involved wherever he was needed, making his presence felt throughout the 90 minutes.

Marco Bustos' touch heatmap vs. HFX Wanderers FC. (Via Opta).
Marco Bustos’ touch heatmap vs. HFX Wanderers FC. (Via Opta).

As shown in his personal heatmap, above, Bustos was just about everywhere on the field, roaming from left to right, and dropping back to help his team recover possession, too.

Valour, now 2-2-0 for the Spring season, is starting to find their identity, even if all of the pieces haven’t come together on one field quite yet.

“I like the way we’ve played,” Gale said after the match. “We’ve shown what we’re about in terms of identity and trying to play football. I like the fact that we’re trying to be positive and win every football game. You haven’t seen a game where we were trying to clog it up and not go toe-to-toe with the opposition.”

In a team already filled to the brim in technical, attack-minded midfielder, Bustos is a weapon Gale can turn to in many positions. Will there be enough defensive resiliency to allow Bustos to work in tandem with all of his fellow attacking players? That remains to be seen, and is the big question Gale will likely need to answer before July 1 rolls around.

But for now, Bustos – who has six appearances for Canada since 2015 – is one of the many young Canadian talents who can call the Canadian Premier League home. Having a platform to showcase their skills is part of the allure of the CPL, and Bustos admitted he pulled the trigger on a return home after watching the first four matches of the inaugural season.

“I’ve been watching from day one and it’s really impressed me,” Bustos said, of the league. “It’s just going to continue to get better. The more players that come in, the better it’s going to get, every year.”

Indeed, as players like Bustos make the CPL their own, the level of play will continue to improve. It helps that Bustos is now back home, playing alongside fellow Winnipegers like Dylan Carreiro and Dylan Sacramento, too.

“It’s great. I played with them from 10 to 15 years old,” Bustos said, with a smile. “It’s crazy the way soccer works. The world is small. I’m glad I can be teammates with them again.”