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Valour FC didn’t give their fans a whole lot to cheer about in Year 1, but throughout the goal-scoring droughts and losing streaks, there was at least one thing supporters could look forward to when they watched their new soccer team — Marco Bustos.
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder from the Maples quickly became the face of the franchise when he joined his hometown team in May. While the losses piled up all season long, Bustos was often one of the few bright spots for Valour in each of their discouraging defeats. When the ball was at his feet, fans in the stands, and more importantly, opposing defenders, were on high alert. Bustos finished the year with a team-high eight goals and added three assists.
Valour fans will get to see Bustos at IG Field in 2020, but unfortunately for them, he’ll be wearing teal and purple. Valour head coach Rob Gale and Bustos confirmed to the Free Press Wednesday the talented goal scorer has signed a one-year contract with Greater Victoria’s Pacific FC. Bustos is the first Manitoban to sign with a CPL team that isn’t Valour.
'I have nothing but good things to say about Valour and Rob (Gale) for bringing me in and making me a big part of the team. But I think going to Pacific will potentially open more doors for me' — Marco Bustos
"It’s hard, you know. It’s not an easy decision to make," Bustos said in an interview.
"I’ve never been in this situation before where I’m a free agent and I can pick and choose where I want to play. I have nothing but good things to say about Valour and Rob for bringing me in and making me a big part of the team. But I think going to Pacific will potentially open more doors for me for where I believe I can get to."
Bustos went into the offseason hoping to land a deal with an MLS club or in Europe, but nothing came to fruition. He was in talks with Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, but no official offer was made. He could have taken his talents to a club in Malta or over to Asia, but Bustos believed a return to the CPL made more sense for him.
"In a sense, nothing greater came up. Nothing that would make me want to make a switch to a different country yet. I have to stay calm, patient and wait for something better to come up," said Bustos, who joined Valour from the USL’s Oklahoma City Energy.
"I don’t want to end up in Europe in a situation where I go there, play a year and then I’m back in the CPL again. It has to make sense for all parties involved to keep me there on a longer-term deal and let me adapt to Europe and my game," he said.
"But now it gives me another season in the CPL. Another season here to set a high standard for myself to have MVP numbers and that only comes with hard work and dedication. I feel like that’s the kind of person that I am. So, I’m setting the bar high for myself to go out and make a statement again this season."
It isn’t the first time Bustos has moved to B.C. for soccer. Back in 2011, he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Academy where he spent several years. From 2014 to 2018, Bustos was in Vancouver’s senior-level developmental system and would go on to make four appearances for the Whitecaps. It’s where he met Pa-Modou Kah, who was recently named Pacific’s new head coach. The Norwegian native made 30 appearances for the Whitecaps before he joined the organization’s coaching staff in 2016.
"I know (Kah) very well. He was a mentor of mine with the Vancouver Whitecaps and we played together," said Bustos. "He gave me a call and he made things sound very promising. I feel like I’m a player that can make a difference on a team. He’s an honest guy and he made things sound good for the future of my career."
Yes, living on the West Coast has its perks, but so does playing for the team in your very own backyard. If Bustos stuck around, surely, he would’ve been the ‘guy’ and marketed as such. So, how could he turn that down? His girlfriend Halley is from Vancouver, but Bustos assured that didn’t play much of a factor into the decision.
"To me, you only live once and to build more experiences around the world, different cities, countries, that’s my goal, to move around the world and show what I’m about and get to the next level that I want to get to. Winnipeg, in a sense will be here for me always, but at this young age, I don’t think it’s right for me to be the face of a team," he said.
While the loss of Bustos is a massive blow, Valour has made some impressive signings as of late. Last week, Valour added another player who has spent time with the Whitecaps — Scottish/Canadian winger Fraser Aird. Aird, 24, has spent the majority of his pro career playing in Scotland. The team is also set to announce the addition of 26-year-old Canadian defender Brett Levis, also a former Whitecap, who made 24 appearances for Vancouver’s MLS squad in the past three years. However, these new faces still don’t make losing Bustos easy.
"It’s disappointing for sure," Gale said in a phone interview. "You’d hope that players would show some loyalty in yourself, the club or their hometown. But ultimately, he’s a good kid Marco. He had to make a decision that was good for him and his girlfriend and they went in another way. For us, there’s a lot of talent out there. Obviously, with (Aird and Levis) coming on board, they’re two terrific signings. Both have had more (MLS) first-team experience than Marco. So, it’s a case of then finding more attacking pieces now. There’s a lot of talent out there and it’s just a shame that being a Manitoba boy he didn’t want to stay and commit."
Bustos is hoping he made the right decision and that a strong season for Pacific will help him move on to bigger and better things. Regardless of what the future holds, Bustos, who signed with Valour three games into the season, will always look back as this past year as an incredible experience. But Bustos isn’t reflecting right now. Instead, he’s focused on the upcoming season and his goal of becoming the top player in the CPL.
"I’m gunning for that 100 per cent. I feel like it’s an achievable thing. I want to set the bar high for myself and for my teammates," said Bustos. "I feel like I need to take on a bit of a leadership role now and sort of lead by example. I’ve always worked hard, I’ve always tried to do extra to better myself. Having one season now in the league, missing the first few games and then coming in right away and contributing, I feel like if we get the guys around and we set a winning mentality, anything is possible to achieve."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
Updated on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 10:16 PM CST: Adds photo