Marco Bustos has gone from living in The Maples to donning the maple leaf.
The 17-year-old soccer star is one of 21 players representing Canada at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which is taking place from Oct. 17 to Nov. 8 in the United Arab Emirates.
"Being chosen for the U-17 World Cup team is an honour and privilege," Bustos said via email from UAE.
"Representing my country on the biggest international stage is something not a lot of people get to do and I want to thank my coach Sean Fleming for believing me."
Bustos, who attended junior high at École Leila North Community School and Grade 9 at Garden City Collegiate, is in his third year with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency, after playing for FC Northwest in Winnipeg.
The attacking midfielder says he’s improved in every aspect of his game since joining the Whitecaps.
"The skill I’ve developed the most in Vancouver is receiving the ball in tight areas under pressure and playing out of danger, and also playing quick and sufficient," Bustos says. "The aspect of the game I’ve most improved on is my fitness and being able to play full games and being more effective in games."
Whitecaps U-18 Residency head coach Gordon Forrest says Bustos is a "very exciting, No. 10 type of player" who is a "real problem for the opposition."
And he’s got a personality to boot.
"Great attitude, not just on the field but off the field," says Forrest, 36, who played 10 years professionally. "He’s got a good energy about him and that’s what we look for here, personality and character as well as a technical and practical side. We want good people at the club and he certainly provides excitement on the field and off the field as well.
"He’s got a desire to be a top professional and we’ve really seen that over the last year and a bit, his application on and off the field. These guys train every day, they go to school every day, they go to gym sessions in the morning and they play games on weekends. It’s a tough schedule and you’ve got to be committed and he’s really committed to the program."
Bustos calls Forrest a friend and a mentor and says the Whitecaps coach has helped him "tremendously" in growing as a player and as a person.
But, the most important teacher in Bustos’ soccer career has to be his dad — and childhood coach — Alex Bustos.
"He passed on his passion for the game down to me," Bustos says. "I consider my dad my mentor because he started me from a young age (four years old) and was always there for me. He taught me everything I know but it was up to me to perfect everything he taught me.
"There’s nothing better than knowing he wants nothing but the best for me as a young aspiring footballer."