Marco Bustos looks to lead Pacific title defence: ‘If I don’t believe, who’s gonna believe for me?’

Much has changed at Pacific FC since they lifted the North Star Shield in December.

Coach Pa-Modou Kah has moved on, as has a quartet of core players from 2021 — Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour to Forge, and Lukas MacNaughton and Kadin Chung to Toronto FC in MLS.

However, much remains the same. James Merriman, integral to the club since the very beginning, is still around — now the head coach. So, too, are so many of the players who led them to the title last season.

And, much like every year, Marco Bustos is entering the season intent on being among the best.

“I want to pick up where I left off, confident, just enjoying my football,” Bustos told during Pacific’s preseason. “I’m treated very well here, and that allows me just to be me.”

Bustos being Bustos — a healthy version — would be very good for the Tridents, of course. The 25-year-old looked set to run away with the CPL’s Player of the Year award early last year until a knee injury shut him down for two weeks (and, eventually, for the end of the season as well when he re-aggravated the injury during the Canadian Championship match against Toronto FC). Bustos still had seven goals and six assists in 2021, but Pacific ultimately had to win their title without him.

The talismanic winger’s initial return to the pitch, at home against Valour FC, was an emotional moment for Bustos, who has already revealed how much it had stung to sit out — especially the tilt with Vancouver Whitecaps (his former club) in August.

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“My first appearance back was against Valour, in a full stadium here, and as soon as I started warming up the fans started clapping me, which was a cool feeling,” he said. “When I went on I had quite a big standing ovation; I just didn’t know I meant that much to everyone here, which is a nice feeling.”

Bustos then scored twice against FC Edmonton a week and a half later.

“I just remember scoring here, and I did a little celebration of like a meditation, and it just meant how for me what was keeping me sane and focused was just the calmness of the mind,” he said. “The mind can take you to crazy places sometimes and you’ve just got to be centred, and just keep the mind free of those bad thoughts, and keep positive.

His triumphant return didn’t last long, sadly; though he had two goals and two assists in his four CPL games after injury, a hard tackle before halftime at BMO Field on November 4 ended his year. The Winnipeg native was on the bench for the CPL Final in Hamilton, but Bustos admits the team didn’t quite think he was ready to play — perhaps, he says, his inclusion on the team sheet was a crafty psychological tactic from then-coach Pa-Modou Kah.

Kah, now helming North Texas SC in MLS NEXT Pro, left an enormous impact on Pacific FC, having taken over in 2020 and led them to a championship in 2021. The coach, ever a vocal presence among the group, helped instil a culture at the Vancouver Island club — although Merriman, having been an assistant coach there since before Kah even arrived, will know full well how to continue that momentum.

July 10, 2021. Pacific FC vs York United FC. First-Half. Marco Bustos of Pacific FC celebrates his first-half goal against York United FC. (CPL)
Marco Bustos of Pacific FC celebrates his first-half goal against York United FC. (CPL)

“Everyone knows Pa is a big voice, I think that’s probably the biggest difference,” Bustos explained. “But both have football IQ; Pa at times, he could be a bit crazy, but it was a good crazy. For us as players, and obviously me being quite close with him and being able to work with him, how motivating it was every day to have that intensity was good, and that’s just the start of it. We’ve just got to build off of that this year.”

He added: “With James coming in, it’s the same football mentality. We’re gonna try to play the same style of football, obviously tweak some things that we could’ve done better last year, but James has got quality for sure. He’s a motivated guy, hard-working, and that’s what motivates us players. When the captain of the ship is someone that you trust to lead by example, like James, we’ve just all got to follow, we’ve all got to stay on the same page and I think we have a good group of guys to do that.

“I think him being an Island guy, born and raised here, it’s a good opportunity. For me, there’s no one else you would give it to besides him; we’re just excited to get things started and I’m excited for him also.”

Individually, Bustos is hungry for a big year in purple. The Tridents play in three competitions this year, including the Concacaf League, all of which offer a chance for silverware — and an opportunity for players to stand out. The team successes always take priority, obviously, but nonetheless Bustos has had his eye on that Player of the Year trophy for a while. The closest he’s come was in 2020 when he was nominated, but lost to Kyle Bekker, but he might’ve won it in 2021 had he been healthy. The Pacific dynamo is a confident player, hungry to continue proving he’s among the CPL’s elite.

“If I don’t believe it, who’s gonna believe it for me?” he said. “I have full belief in myself that I’ll be there again… When collective success happens, that’s when the individuals stand out.”

Plus, of course, standing out on a team like Pacific has recently been a lucrative thing to do. Bustos, who has played in Major League Soccer for Vancouver, points out that Kadin Chung and Lukas MacNaughton got their moves to Toronto FC this winter thanks to making good use of their opportunities at Pacific.

Bustos reveals he, to this day, watches every MLS game, hoping one day to take the step back up to the level that he wasn’t quite ready for as a teenager.

Before he can think too much about that, though, Bustos has to zero in on that first CPL game: Pacific versus Forge, on April 10 at Starlight Stadium. The CPL Final rematch, with Campbell and Hojabrpour making their return to Van Isle, is sure to be a heated clash. Bustos, of course, is measured in the emotions leading into that game.

“With it being the first game of the season it’s going to be quite a big occasion regardless of who we play,” he said. “It being at home here, I’m sure it’ll be full; hopefully it’s a nice day to play. With those guys coming back, obviously they were part of our squad that won a championship, and they wanted to go on to other opportunities, try something new within the league, which is a footballer’s choice. That’s them, and at the end of the day it is what it is.

“For me, it’s us against Forge. I think that’s probably now the biggest rivalry in the league. The two best clubs going at it, which is great for the league.”

To see’s interview with Marco Bustos in full, go to

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