"I've always had the goal of playing in Europe": Marco Bustos is enjoying IFK Värnamo adventure after standout CPL career
After a long wait, Marco Bustos is finally living out his European dream.
Having signed with Swedish Allsvenskan side IFK Värnamo this past offseason, the 27-year-old is settling nicely into life with his new club, as he gets the chance to take the steps that he long believed he’d one day make.
Now, after almost 200 games across 10 years in clubs across North America, including 90 games in four CPL seasons, he’s getting that opportunity, and so far, it’s been everything he’s wanted.
“It’s been good,” Bustos shared in an interview with the club's YouTube channel this week. “It’s obviously been different, but I’ve always had a goal to come and play in Europe, and there were a few paths to take, and I think this was the right path for me to explore European football.”
From Canada to Sweden… 🇨🇦 → 🇸🇪— Marco Bustos (@marcobustos10) January 14, 2023
Excited to be joining my new club IFK Värnamo of the Swedish Allsvenskan. 🔷⚪️🔷 @AllsvenskanSE @ifkvmo pic.twitter.com/5UVN0d32fL
Yet, that’s a credit to the path he’s taken to get to this point.
Before arriving at the CPL, he was at a bit of a crossroads, as after seven years in the Vancouver Whitecaps system, he joined OKC Energy in the USL as a free agent. Having made just 13 appearances for the Whitecaps' first team, spending most of his time with the second team or out on loan, it was a good chance for a fresh start for the then 22-year-old.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t really come with the Energy, as he only played around 600 minutes across 16 games with the club in the back half of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Despite having had seasons with eight, seven and seven goals from his time in the USL with the WFC II, he wasn’t able to get a chance to get back to those heights in OKC, leaving him to spend most of his time on the bench.
As a result, he was left to consider a new opportunity - to join Valour FC in the brand-new CPL, as his hometown team was eager to get the Winnipeg-born Bustos to help them navigate their inaugural campaign in the new league.
He took it, and from there, never looked back, finishing his first season with eight goals and three assists in 27 games across all competitions. From there, Pacific came calling, and there, he became a standout on the Island, scoring 15 goals and 17 assists across three seasons with the club.
Headlined by the 2021 season, where had seven goals and seven assists in 18 games, helping Pacific win the North Star Shield, he did well to become one of the big stars of the league, one able to take over a game with his ability to create chances for himself and his teammates.
Marco Bustos is back with a bang— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) October 27, 2021
Here's his goal from earlier. What a Messi-esque run from him to slalom through the defenders and slot home the ball so calmly on his weaker foot
Nice to see him back in purple#CanPL #CanMNTpic.twitter.com/Pa0Do9RCuT
Therefore, with his contract up last season, it was only a matter of when, not if, that he’d make a jump up. He had a few options, as he first trialled with Toronto FC in the fall, and then had some offers from clubs in the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy, giving him plenty to ponder.
Eventually, he settled with IFK Värnamo, a club in a small lake town in the middle of Sweden, who were fresh off their first-ever season in the Swedish top flight in 2022.
And so far, it’s been a good match, as Bustos has settled nicely in with the club, playing 184 minutes across four league games for them this season. It might not have been the most enticing offer he got, but it was a perfect fit, and at his age, Bustos knew that was what he needed to make a jump like this.
“It came from the conversations that I had with the people within the club, the coaches, the director,” Bustos explained. “I just had a really good feeling that this was a place that would allow me to take a good step forward, instead of taking three steps forward.”
“If I was going to Serie B, maybe that’d be too big of a step, and I didn’t want to take the risk of making too big of a step and then getting lost in between. I’m 27, I’m not 20 anymore, I need to be somewhere where I have the potential to be an important player for the team.”
Playing on the right wing in a 4-3-3, a role he often played for Pacific, he’s looked comfortable in making this step, too, finding the adjustment period quite easy.
Other than the fact that the Allsvenskan is a much more established league with some historic clubs and some big players, he’s found the level to be quite similar to the CPL, helping him get settled quicker than he might’ve expected to.
“Yeah, it’s actually quite similar, from what I’ve seen,” Bustos explained. “In the preseason games that we played, how our team plays, I think it’s very similar. I think a big difference is that the Allsvenskan is historical, it’s been around for many years, and you’ve got established teams and established players, and you’re able to bring in some of these bigger players that get paid quite a bit.”
“In the CPL, we don’t have that one guy making $1 million euros yet, it hasn’t happened in the CPL, but it’s a league that’s growing, and that’s wanting to push players to the Allsvenskan, to play in Belgium, to play in MLS, and the level’s not far off. It’s also been a lot more tactical here, I’ve learned a lot in the 2 months I’ve been here.”
Now, Bustos’ goals are clear for the rest of the year - to push into the top five of the league table with Värnamo.
Despite it being just their first-ever season in the top flight in 2022, they finished 10th out of 16 teams, doing well to avoid the drop, and want to build on that this year.
So far, they’ve done a good job of that, too, sitting ninth after four games with two wins and two losses, and are eager to build off of that with some big games ahead.
Within that, Bustos is looking to do his best to help his team, as he feels they’ve been a bit underlooked given that they’re still relatively unknown at the top flight.
And given that he’s always been one to attack games with a chip on his shoulder, that certainly suits him.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the way we train, we work really hard, and do purposeful training, it’s not like we kick the ball for two hours and have fun,” Bustos explained. “Of course, you need to have fun in training, but we have a purpose for why we’re training, and I think that’s really important.”
“Maybe we don’t have the glamour of a big facility to train in, but we put in good work, and we can see it when we play, we like to be a team that likes to keep the ball, we like to dominate the game with the ball, be a possession-based team, and that’s important, because when we come out to play, I think we have every capability of coming in and competing.”
“People don’t expect us to win, I’ve read in the news and talked to other players, no one expects us to win, but with the way we work, there’s no reason why we can’t finish top 5.”
From there, he’ll know some will be watching, such as head coach John Herdman, as Bustos pushes to get his first CanMNT caps since 2017. Something he’s been long battling to get, Butos is eager to follow the likes of Victor Loturi and Dominick Zator as former CPLers making similar strides in their careers, something that a strong season with Värnamo would certainly allow him to do.