‘We put everything on the table’: Bustos chooses Pacific after agonizing free agency decision

What’s past is prologue in the Canadian Premier League.

The recurring narrative thread of this CPL off-season has been one of homecoming, and people returning to the place they began. Michael Petrasso, Hanson Boakai, and (in a way) Pa-Modou Kah.

Marco Bustos isn’t quite coming home to Pacific FC — really, he’s leaving his hometown of Winnipeg and Valour FC. In a way, though, it’s from one home to another; in his six-odd years spent in B.C. at the Vancouver Whitecaps academy, Bustos crossed paths with many of his new teammates (Noah Verhoeven, Terran Campbell, and Kadin Chung immediately came to mind for him).

Not least of his old friends at Pacific, of course, is Pa-Modou Kah, newly-announced head coach.

“He was a mentor of mine in Vancouver when we played together at the Whitecaps,” Bustos told on Friday. “He’s a really good friend of mine. He’s in his first head coaching gig, and we spoke on the phone a lot. He can bring the best out of me and vice versa, I can bring the best out of him. It wasn’t an easy decision, at all, but I felt like with his presence there in Pacific it made it a very intriguing place to play for me.”

RELATED READING: Marco Bustos switches to Pacific FC for the 2020 season

Of course, the decision to head west did not come easy to Bustos, who potted seven goals for Valour in 2019. He suggested that he’d been contemplating his options for months, not making his choice until recently.

“It was a good two months of keeping an open door for myself,” he said. “The first week of January is where I had it in my head that, ‘You know what? I think Pacific would be the best fit for me.'”

He added: “There’s pros and cons to everything. We put everything on the table, the pros and cons, and I felt like Pacific would offer me a bit more opportunity in the long run. … I don’t have anything bad to say about Valour, Valour was the best place for me last season. But Pacific at the moment is a place that I feel like I can flourish and get myself to the next level.”

Plenty of options were on the table, with rumoured interest from a bevy of CanPL outfits, but it seems Bustos’ verdict was helped along by the mid-January revelation of Kah’s involvement at PFC. Bustos and Kah discussed the latter’s move to Van Isle, with Kah ultimately convincing his former teammate, 16 years his junior, to join him at Westhills Stadium.

“(Kah) called me and told me what his plans were, and that he wanted me to be part of his team,” Bustos recounted. “I was still in the process of thinking and laying out my options. Him going there is the reason why I’m going to Pacific — one of the big reasons why.”

Valour's Marco Bustos makes his club debut against HFX Wanderers FC. (Photo: David Lipnowski/CPL).
Valour’s Marco Bustos makes his club debut against HFX Wanderers FC. (Photo: David Lipnowski/CPL).

Part of the sales pitch might have been something Pacific can offer more than any other club: a leadership role in a young squad. Bustos, 23, boasts plenty of experience at various levels, but Valour’s squad was a slightly older one in 2019, with a number of veterans who have been around the block overseas. Pacific has those too, of course — Marcel de Jong especially — but compared to their core of youngsters, Bustos can be counted among the veterans now, with reps in MLS, USL, and Mexico’s second division.

“A 30-year-old can learn from a 20-year-old, and can learn from someone who’s 50. It’s not anything black and white,” Bustos said. “But (Kah) wants me to be part of a leadership role there, which is big for me. … I’ve always been a leader by example, I feel like my professionalism rubs off on teammates.”

“(Kah)’s set a standard for me, and I’ve set a standard for myself,” added Bustos, whose confidence is evident both on the pitch and over the phone.

The addition of Bustos, one of the CPL’s best attackers (indeed, good enough to make the Fan Awards team of the year at left wing), to a roster that’s already brought in Jamar Dixon and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, has many anointing Pacific a contender for the 2020 North Star Shield. It’s early, of course, but under Kah’s new guidance they’re certainly shaping up to improve on their inaugural season.

Still, before looking ahead completely, Bustos spared a thought for what he’s leaving behind. He has nothing but fond memories of playing in his hometown, as he recalled for

“This will be a moment that will stay with me forever, being part of history in my hometown,” he said. “Coming (to Winnipeg) was the best thing for me, I never got the chance really to play in front of my family and friends on a game-to-game basis, and that was something new for me. Obviously I cherish that, not every day you go out and compete in a professional game where you know your family and friends are gonna be actually in the stadium.”

“It was a big change that helped me a lot, grew my confidence,” Bustos added. “It was the best thing for me to come to Valour and be a big part of the team and show everyone what I’m about.”

Still, he’s a Pacific player now; Bustos won’t forget it when he first travels to IG Field. Asked how much he’d love to score in his first visit back to Winnipeg as an opponent, he laughed.

“I’m hoping to score in every game I can.”