It’s a situation Marco Bustos has never previously found himself in.
Having played for four clubs in three countries (Canada, the U.S. and Mexico) since turning pro, the 23-year-old Winnipegger is finally a free agent – and possibly the most sought after unsigned player from the Canadian Premier League’s first season.
He finds himself at a juncture, the CPL’s version of The Decision. The limitless options have been narrowed down to two choices. Bustos alone will make the call: a return to Valour FC or head west and join Pacific FC.
This all comes after weeks of rumours that several teams around the league tabled offers to the star midfielder. When he sat down with CanPL.ca, Bustos wanted to give his side of the experience. The feeling of being wanted, the fear of regret and the difficulty involved in making both footballing and life choices.
So, Bustos prepares for destination unknown. He has conversations with potential coaches and his agent. Spending the winter in Winnipeg with family, staying in shape, and somewhat unfortunately, reading about himself on the internet.
“It’s funny, like, I’m going here, I’m going there, I’m going everywhere,” Bustos said. “I remember reading that I was spotted in Victoria (while) I was at the gym in Winnipeg at the same time.”
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Bustos doesn’t consider the chatter a distraction in his off-season, though. He’s aware of it, but has decided to instead relish it. Using it as fuel, he wants to prove those speaking so highly of him right when he takes the pitch in 2020.
“I’ve obviously done something right in this past season that people are talking about me; that was my main goal, to come to the CPL and show everyone what I am capable of,” he said.
“It motivates me, teams are trying to come after me and I’m thinking ‘what more can I do to have more teams looking at me from around the world’.”
Show them what he can do. That was the reason Bustos packed up his car (and dog) and drove with his girlfriend from Oklahoma (where he was playing in the USL) to Winnipeg in May 2019. He watched the Canadian Premier League’s launch on OneSoccer and wanted to be a part of it. He saw the platform the inaugural season was set to provide for several Canadians like him. It proved to be the right call, as Bustos starred for his hometown team and scored eight times across all competitions.
“A lot of people had never seen me play at a high level and now I’ve left them with an opinion of me, on a personal level I thought I had a pretty positive season,” Bustos offered.
Now onto the decision. One that Bustos has mulled over with careful consideration. It’s a humanizing look into the day in the life of a pro athlete. Bustos laid out how he’s making his choice.
“It’s a tough decision. It’s between Valour and Pacific. It’s tough for me, taking the pros and cons of both. Whether it’s ‘what am I going to get out of Pacific’, ‘what am I going to get out of Valour.’ (I) just to kind of try to break everything down and speak with my family. Nobody can tell the future. If I could tell the future I probably wouldn’t be playing soccer I’d be making a million dollars somewhere else,” Bustos explained.
“I kind of have to choose with my gut and know they’re both great you know Valour did great things for me. Coming here was the best thing for me, for my development. Get a good solid season in playing consistently at a high level. Now I have to think more about what’s going to help me get to the next level. So, my dream and aspiration that I have is to get to Europe or back into MLS. So, whatever whatever situation is going to make it better for me, or that I believe that will get me to the next level that’s kind of where I’m leaning towards. So I haven’t made an ultimate decision yet but there will be one soon.
“I know Rob (Gale) believes in me a lot. But, now the coach of Pacific is Pa-Modou Kah. I played with him and he was a mentor of mine in Vancouver. And I know he believes in me, just as much as Rob. There’s two places that I can only flourish and be comfortable in. (But) it’s not just for me, I want to win, just as much as anyone.”
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It’s a decision with several implications for Valour FC. The club has seen key players Louis Beland-Goyette and Michael Petrasso already leave. Bustos was asked about where things stand with the club and his relationship with Gale.
“I believe in Rob and he believed in me from day 1, it’s because of him that I got into the national team system,” Bustos said. “That set the path for me to get six caps for the national team, in my young career he was there for me and there for me when I needed to be playing lots.”
Whether it is old friend Gale or former teammate Kah that Bustos signs on the dotted line with, he’s laid out what to expect from himself in 2020.
“I want to reach, two digit numbers in goals and assists.” Bustos said. “I want to raise the bar high for myself, set the standard high because I believe that and if you don’t believe in yourself, who’s going to believe in you right? So I believe that I can, I can put up MVP numbers.”
But before any of that can happen, MVP, national team, MLS and beyond… Bustos is going to have to choose where his next chapter begins.