Not many CPL players have caused as much excitement the past two years as Marco Bustos.
The diminutive winger, who re-signed on Thursday with Pacific FC for 2021, has 13 goals and seven assists in his CPL career, spread across a season each at Pacific and Valour FC. He was a 2020 CPL Player of the Year nominee for good reason, lifting the Tridents to their top-four finish.
He’s now committed himself to providing more special moments — ideally a few of them at Westhills Stadium — in the coming season.
In anticipation of the Bustos magic yet to come in the 2021 season, now is a good time to look back on the highlights of his time so far in this league. So, here are the top five moments from the young Winnipegger’s first two seasons in the CPL.
5. Lively Island Games debut
Bustos was Pacific’s big-splash free agent signing for 2020, and it didn’t take him long (once the season started, that is) to introduce himself.
In Pacific’s first match of The Island Games against HFX Wanderers FC, Bustos proved himself to be immediately worth the investment, with a very strong opening performance on the right wing. His passing accuracy was second-highest among starters for both teams (unusual for an attacker like him), and he was involved in both of Pacific’s goals en route to a 2-2 draw.
He picked up an assist on Zach Verhoven’s 68th-minute game-tying goal, although really the extent of his contribution was stepping back when Verhoven took control of the play. Verhoven returned the favour with an assist to Bustos a few minutes later, though, as the latter smartly drifted into a wide-open space in the middle of the box and finished — while falling — over a diving Jason Beaulieu.
The game ended in a draw, the Wanderers finding a 90th-minute equalizer with their second penalty kick of the afternoon, but nonetheless, Bustos’ arrival at Pacific FC was official.
4. Individual masterclass vs. HFX (Part 1)
We go back to the Valour days in 2019 for this one. It was a Wednesday night in late August at IG Field, and the Winnipeg side were coming off a weekend loss on the road at Pacific.
Despite playing 90 minutes the Saturday before (and, for that matter, every single minute of Valour’s season since his debut in the fourth game of the Spring), Bustos was the best player on the pitch in this game against HFX. After a few good chances didn’t find the net in the first 45, he turned it on in the second half to take control and deliver a win for his side.
Just a minute after the restart, Bustos dribbled into the right half-space all on his own, hanging onto possession despite three defenders surrounding him. He laid it off quickly for a give-and-go with Michele Paolucci, and coolly chipped it into the net for one of the best solo efforts the CPL had seen that season.
He added another just over three minutes later, as well. Despite HFX’s heavy man-marking outside the box, he managed to hide from them all and slip behind the centre-backs to meet a perfect through-ball from Louis Béland-Goyette. Bustos side-stepped the goalkeeper and finished from the corner of the six-yard box, putting Valour firmly in command of the game.
3. 20-second screamer
For several reasons, this match was one of the most memorable of 2019. Valour travelled to Hamilton for a late-Spring matinee with Forge FC, and it was Bustos who got proceedings started quickly.
He needed just 30 seconds to produce one of the best goals of the year, drifting into space to receive a through-ball at the corner of the box before cutting back and unleashing a screamer over Forge’s entire defensive line and into the net. You can take your pick between this goal or his first against HFX in 2019, but both efforts were extraordinary — and a huge part of the reason why Pacific was so keen to sign him.
This, the fastest goal in CPL history (until Francisco Acuña beat it at The Island Games), was also Bustos’ first in the CPL. His first in a Valour kit had come just a week and a half before in the Canadian Championship (also against HFX, of course), but this was the moment he really introduced himself to the league as a player with such
2. Individual masterclass vs. HFX (Part 2)
This and the moment in first place are probably interchangeable at the top of this list, but we’ll keep this one in second since the match in question had far less significance.
Bustos seemed to approach this match with a vengeance, taking matters entirely into his own hands to ensure his side left PEI on a high note (cementing his Player of the Year candidacy in the process). He recorded two assists — the first a pinpoint cross to Terran Campbell for a header, the second a perfect short ball to play Alejandro Díaz through alone — and he added two goals of his own, with a lovely diving header and a well-taken tap-in after a surging run into the box. All of that in the first half, as well.
It really was an exceptional all-around performance from Pacific, but Bustos was really pulling the strings in attack. He would arrange his fellow wingers and strikers by playing them into space with passes, and he always seemed to make himself open in the box for a scoring chance.
Although the group stage at The Island Games didn’t go quite as well as Pacific might’ve hoped, Bustos ensured they left with one more good memory.
1. Season-saving heroics in PEI
Pacific headed into the final match of the first round of The Island Games with their work cut out for them.
Due to results around the league’s final weekend and their own 2-2-2 record, they desperately needed all three points against FC Edmonton. A loss or a draw would mean they were going home, and York9 FC would be headed to the group stage.
The first half was, frankly, not good. Coach Pa-Modou Kah was furious in his halftime interview on OneSoccer, clearly unimpressed by his team’s failure to generate a single shot on target in a must-win game. The second half started even worse, as well: Easton Ongaro scored in the 59th minute, giving Pacific just half an hour to score twice and save their season.
Josh Heard put them back in the game, burying a rebound off a free-kick. From there, Pacific threw the kitchen sink at the Eddies, with one more goal all they needed to earn a top-four spot. They took five shots in the last 20 minutes, three of them by Bustos.
The third of those was the magic moment. Bustos, wearing the captain’s armband, drifted in and out of the Edmonton lines, interchanging with Kadin Chung on the right side as they advanced closer to the box. Finally, Chung found his opening, darting through a square of four Eddies to lay it off for a wide-open Bustos, who threaded a perfect shot in between three defenders and past the goalkeeper.
“Honestly I was lost for words, I didn’t know what to say,” Bustos told reporters postgame. “I just started screaming. It just gave me an extra energy in the last 10 minutes, I was running all over the place.”
Was it the biggest goal in Pacific’s club history? Probably.
It was, at least, undeniable proof that Bustos can step up in big moments for his club, playing the hero when they desperately needed one.