Since his first day in the Canadian Premier League, Marco Bustos has been very open about his aspirations. For several years now, a return to the Canadian national team has been near the top of his wishlist.
This month, Bustos saw that goal fulfilled, with coach John Herdman inviting the Pacific FC winger to Bradenton, Florida, and January’s men’s national team camp, presented by Allstate. It’s been just under four years since Bustos — who does have six caps — donned the Canada jersey, last doing so in a March 2017 friendly against Scotland.
After a couple of excellent seasons in the CPL (including an MVP-calibre Island Games campaign with Pacific), Bustos earned the call to rejoin the squad this month as Les Rouges gear up for perhaps their busiest ever year.
“It’s awesome,” Bustos told CanPL.ca from Florida. “Everybody who really knows me knows I work really hard, and I was open all the time and always said that my realistic goal was to get a call-up back to the national team. But just because I got a call-up to the national team now doesn’t mean I’m part of the team.”
With so many competitive games on the horizon for Canada, Bustos sees this camp primarily as an opportunity to make an impression, and perhaps be involved again come the summer, when Canada has to test its depth between World Cup qualifiers and the Concacaf Gold Cup.
“They have the guys that they know, these guys are part of everything that we’re doing,” he explained. “But also they bring in a ton of players that we need to have a look at in this environment, and obviously I’m one of those. They’re having a look at me in the environment here, and how can I adapt to the tactics, how am I around the other players, or around the staff — if I’m a good person.”
As Bustos suggested, players such as Alphonso Davies and the other regular first-teamers are already pencilled into plans for this summer, but that leaves a few jobs up for grabs to players like himself.
Herdman himself has also said as much, telling reporters last week that he decided to give Bustos a shot, having watched his previous performances with the national team and his play in the CPL.
“We thought we’d take that gamble on Marco and give him his chance to be seen in this environment,” Herdman said.
Having been in Florida for over a week now, Bustos has noticed a real shift in this version of the Canadian national team, compared to his previous experience. He’d never been to a camp under Herdman before, nor in the era since Alphonso Davies made his senior debut (a moment we might justly call a turning point).
With World Cup qualification a real goal for the team, Bustos has come into what he describes as a much more competitive environment this time around.
“It’s obviously different than the last time I was with the national team, there’s a lot of detail put into training, meetings,” he explained. “It’s actually a big change… getting a call-up isn’t just given, you have to earn it.”
Bustos added: “You see it in the way the national team plays; they’re playing to win now. I think that’s a big difference too, where before, and watching for many years, when you play big teams it’s playing not to lose, almost — sitting back, soaking pressure.
“Now you see, the last few games against the United States especially, it’s a team that has a lot of attacking qualities. And that doesn’t just happen overnight or with the snap of a finger, it comes down to details put into meetings and training sessions that obviously helps the team.”
Of course, with the standards now apparently very high, the pressure on players such as Bustos to perform in training increases as well. Judging by Canada Soccer’s own Twitter postings, he’s been doing pretty well, though:
Still, Bustos — having now achieved but one of his many goals — is committing himself to making as much of an impact as he can, so that Herdman and his staff remember him once the competitive games roll around.
“I’m always still learning; I never wanna stop learning, which is nice. You’re learning a new sort of tactics, a new style of playing,” he said.
“It’s important for me that I can show this is what I can bring as a player. I know what I can bring, but then it’s about executing what I can bring into the plans of the coaches.
“You can only control what you can control.”