'You have to be ready for anything': Bustos, Aparicio reflect on journey to Concacaf League
As the freekick nestled into the top corner of the net, the pitch under Marco Bustos started to shake.
For the previous 68 minutes of the match, Bustos and his teammates had been sworn at and had beer tossed at them, among other intimidation tactics. But in that moment, as Nestor Martinez scored the lone goal of the match, Bustos and his Vancouver Whitecaps teammates felt the full might of the Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino.
It was October of 2015, and Bustos was 19 years old, having made just a handful of professional appearances before stepping onto that shaking pitch in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The Whitecaps were playing their final group game of the 2015-16 Concacaf Champions League, a match and atmosphere that will forever live in Bustos’ memory.
“As a young player, that feeling, you get a bit shocked,” Bustos told CanPL.ca this week.
Six years later, Bustos has since swapped Vancouver for Vancouver Island, and the blue of the Whitecaps for the purple of Pacific FC.
But on Tuesday, he will be back in Concacaf club competition. Pacific’s Preliminary Round Concacaf League matchup against Waterhouse FC of Jamaica will be the club’s maiden continental journey. But players like Bustos, Manny Aparicio and Alejandro Diaz bring with them plenty of experience playing within the region that could prove critical to the Tridents’ success.
Because, as Bustos will try to impart on his teammates ahead of the competition, playing away in Concacaf is unlike anything he has experienced.
“You have to be ready for anything,” says Bustos. “When we travel in the bus there’s police escorting us and all that type of stuff. It is a little bit different. You never know what to expect. When I played with the Whitecaps when we went down to Honduras everyone was yelling at us, swearing at us and stuff and you just have to keep a cool head and get on with it. Sometimes you go away and they purposely don’t cut the grass.”
But should the pitch shake, or not be up to standard, should the beers be tossed or any other number of hostilities, Pacific can count a few key players within their ranks as ready. That knowledge should stand to benefit the entire group.
“I think us guys who have played in Concacaf tournaments or have played in Concacaf Champions League in those types of countries I think it’s a good shoulder for guys to lean on,” says Bustos. “When the going gets tough, that’s what we’re here for, that’s why we are leaders in this team and that is why I think it can be a successful run.”
Tuesday will bring Bustos and a couple of his teammates down memory lane. Back in 2015, Bustos, Aparicio and Jordan Haynes represented Canada at the U-20 Concacaf World Cup qualifying tournament held in Jamaica. While playing in the group stage of that tournament, they also matched up against Mexico and Diaz.
For Aparicio, the tournament was a formative experience. The intensity of the competition, and the mentality with which a number of teams they faced played was a “wake-up call” for the Pacific midfielder.
That 2015 team was a talented group, featuring Cyle Larin, Sam Adekugbe and Marco Carducci among others. But matched up against teams who often seemed to be willing to give up more in pursuit of victory, they failed to get out of their group.
“I was only 19 at the time playing with [Toronto FC], with amazing pitches and everything perfect and I think that was a good mental switch for myself and I was like ‘Wow, these guys are literally playing for their life out there,’ you know?” said Aparicio. “I think that was a good wake-up call for me, I took a lot away from those Concacaf matches.”