Marco Bustos is a good player and seems like a good guy, but making excuses for his turning his back on Canada is all wrong.
Bustos, a long-time Canadian youth international who featured at the U-17 World Cup, was on Friday named to the Chilean U-20 roster for an upcoming United States training camp. A youth camp this doesn’t mean the end of Bustos’s potential career in Canadian silks. But young Canadians taking our resources then rushing off to represent other countries and deciding later who they’re going to represent is a problem in our country that’s seldom ended well. This is another example of the endless player drain from Canada to countries people want to escape in any context but soccer.
By every account Bustos is a nice guy, a young gentleman. He’s an exciting young player who I remain high on, a natural playmaker with a quality shot from distance whose hard work in the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency will likely be rewarded with a professional contract. So take my reaction, with yet another Canadian deciding their nationality is just a badge of convenience, as disappointment that Canada is losing both on-field and what before Friday I’d been sure was off-field class.
This isn’t a case of a player going back to the homeland or a player who was neglected by Canada finding a soccer home elsewhere. Bustos was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has accepted Canadian development resources for several years. His soccer career is financed by the Canadian taxpayer, receiving the maximum $10,800 for a men’s soccer athlete in 2014, so even the sneering satisfied selfishness of “what does this complete stranger owe you?” is off the mark.
I will say little against Bustos in particular, though if you’ve come far enough to read this article you can guess what I think. Being honest, not betraying those who have helped your career, and giving back to a community you’re part of are not soccer-specific virtues: they are what we demand from any member of society. Taking limited Canadian time and money then saying “thanks anyway” when something better comes along is worse than a slap in the face. Answering “he’s only got one career!” is trite apologia: we all only have one career, with less chance to make it rich than an elite professional athlete, but we still expect each other to be decent citizens.
It’s been suggested, or maybe hoped, that Bustos is going to this camp not out of any interest in the Chilean program but to further his own career with some exposure and different technical training. I’m not here to defend the honour of Chile but that would be cynical even for me. Then it would be Chile, not Canada, spending resources on someone who had no intention of paying them back, and a dishonest act wouldn’t lose its taint because it’s not against us. Somebody, somewhere, is being deceived: that’s what makes this a character issue. With all that said, Bustos is 17 and we all did things we wish we hadn’t when we were 17. I have enough confidence in Bustos’s character to not close any doors, and to shake my head at ill-advised supporters who tweet abuse or declare him dead to them.
What infuriates me is the trend of demanding less pride, less citizenship, less decency, and less honesty from a man (seldom a woman) just because he’s good at kicking a ball rather than writing a program, flipping a burger, driving a truck, or whatever else humans do for a living. You can’t swing a stick without hitting people insisting that any antisocial act which isn’t actually illegal but would get a normal human spat on in the street is fine, because this guy’s a soccer player.
So let’s consider those grown adults who, for whatever reason, have decided to carry the water of players who turn their backs on us. It’s a familiar crowd. In this corner, the people who go “canada has a soccr teem? lololololol” and define their nation in terms of an inferiority complex. In this corner, people who don’t care about Canadian soccer as such and prefer to prop up their preferred, generally American or European, form of the game. (This group is very large: witness the Vancouver Whitecaps enjoying large attendances despite a losing team with almost no Canadian content.) And in this corner, fans and media members who’ll defend any player who’s nice to them, who is a good interview, who makes time for their questions and maybe shares a little something off the record. Canadian sports consumers will be very, very familiar with this last group.
We’ve heard a lot from all three of these groups in the past few days, although they have been with us for years. The mere fact that I’m sitting here defending, in print, the idea that people should be honest is probably an indication of how degraded this conversation has become.
Anybody who steps into the Canadian soccer conversation for ten seconds will hear, for example, people saying that anybody doing anything to screw Canada is justified because “why doesn’t the Canadian Soccer Association get its act together?” These people usually cannot name a single member of the CSA board, let alone show awareness of the changes there in recent years, of new player development models, of successful youth national teams, of that act being gotten together. Naturally they don’t nearly explain how incompetence would excuse habitual dishonesty anyway. Instead they measure the entire CSA by the recent success of the senior men’s national team, success partially prevented by the loss of top players these non-fans encourage to play for other countries. It’s marvelously circular, incredibly ill-informed, craven, stupid on an elementary school level, and this paragraph is already more attention than these so-called arguments deserve.
Then take the media, such as Vancouver Province Whitecaps writer Marc Weber, who I choose for criticism because he’s good. Asking that we “hear from the young lad first” as Weber did, besides displaying the chumminess that’s part of the problem, misses the point. The facts are not in dispute. Bustos has happily retweeted his callup, the Chilean soccer association has carried it, we have the Government of Canada’s website with his name next to his subsidy, we have the records of the games he played for Canada. The quality of any subsequent interview is irrelevant; what could be said to alter history? Sure enough, Weber’s article the next day was a list of vanilla quotes that changed nothing.
Then there are those who throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Whitecaps radio voice Pete Schaad asked on Twitter whether we Canadian fans would get upset at Bustos playing for Canada if he were a naturalized immigrant. This represents a particularly smelly red herring. We’re not talking about immigration but about a Canadian by any definition representing another country based on 19th-century-style blood quantums; for defenders to raise leering suggestions of xenophobia is a bit too rich.
Schaad’s tweet was retweeted as a “gotchya” by the usual suspects, though, so I may as well answer: no, I don’t object to an immigrant who has embraced Canada playing for their new homeland. Who would? Possibly there’s some psychotic blood-and-soil supporter outraged at nefarious foreigners polluting our national team, but I doubt he speaks for the mainstream. All supporters I know have nothing but love for Carl Valentine (31 caps; born Manchester, England), Milan Borjan (18 caps; born Knin, Croatia), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (4 caps; born Kumasi, Ghana), and many similar players.
Likewise I don’t begrudge those who moved out of Canada and played for their new countries. You will search in vain on this site for a bad word about Canadian-born Swiss international Alain Rochat. I’m more liberal than the usual fan but I have defended Canadian-born Dutch international Jonathan de Guzman on precisely those grounds. And a fair few Canadian men and women have gone to represent other countries when Canada showed no interest. Half of Haiti’s women’s national team is made from Canadian women; who among us complains? On the other hand not a few fans, including myself, have been against the arrival of American born, raised, and trained Rachel Quon in the Canadian women’s program because she isn’t a Canadian immigrant, but an American with the FIFA-requisite drop of “Canadian blood” who can adopt our passport for convenience.
I don’t answer Schaad at such length because the question is germane to Bustos’s situation but to illustrate that this is something Canadian soccer fans think about: it’s not hypernationalism, it’s not “us versus them”. It’s a question of character far more than of country.
We shouldn’t overlook the role of the Vancouver Whitecaps in all of this. One hates to play the “Whitecaps hate Canada” card, but they could have done something to defend their country. Even setting aside the hopes that the Whitecaps would cut or exile a promising prospect for the sake of Canada, Bustos would have needed their consent to accept the invitation to this training camp on a non FIFA date. Instead, they have let Bustos go, and the club website has a news article with an approving quote from Carl Robinson. Given that, even ignoring the near-total dearth of Canadian content in the men’s first team, the MLS-era Whitecaps have given a serious trial and several reserve games to Canadian-turned-Czech-international Jacob Lensky and a USL W-League contract to Canadian-turned-American-international Sydney Leroux back when the Whitecaps had a W-League team, they demonstrably do not care. As a Whitecaps fan, you may argue that the Whitecaps are a private club and owe Canada nothing, but presumably you’d have no objection to the facts being printed for those who do long for the days of a connection between club and country.
In these cases, one is inevitably asked if there’s any serious chance of the ex-Canadian making the senior team of this other country. I don’t know the Chilean U-20 pool, but I do know Bustos is a very good player. He’s dominated the U-16 and U-18 leagues and as of this writing he is the second-leading goalscorer per minute with the USL PDL Whitecaps; extremely impressive for a 17-year-old midfielder in a U-23 league. I was as sure as anybody can be about a 17-year-old that he would have a role to play with Canada for many years. I’m not at all sure today, and if he does it looks like we’re a second or third choice. Let’s take the time to appreciate our young players in countless sports for whom Canada isn’t just “better than nothing.”
 — ANFP. “Seleccion Sub 20: Nomina de convocados para la Copa NTC USA 2014.” ANFP.cl, July 4, 2014. Accessed July 6, 2014. http://www.anfp.cl/noticia/21399/seleccion-sub-20-nomina-de-convocados-para-la-copa-ntc-usa-2014.
 — Government of Canada. “Athletes Receiving AAP Support as of February 1, 2014.” Sport Canada – Funding Programs, February 1, 2014. Accessed July 6, 2014. http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1391712243432#t1288.
 — Weber, Marc. “@aftncanada @tylergreenFC @SoccerTalk650 why don’t we hear from the young lad first. And then discuss.” Via Twitter, July 5, 2014. Accessed July 6, 2014. https://twitter.com/ProvinceWeber/status/485318429407055872.
 — Weber, Marc. “Canada? Italy? Whitecaps’ Bustos chooses to play for Chile, for now, leaving fans feeling chilly.” The Province, July 6, 2014. Accessed July 6, 2014. http://www.theprovince.com/sports/Canada+Italy+Whitecaps+Bustos+chooses+play+Chile+leaving+fans/10005996/story.html.
 — Schaad, Peter. “Last thought on Bustos. If he was born in Chile then moved here & naturalized, would you say, “sorry Marco, we don’t want you on CMNT?”” Via Twitter, July 4, 2014. Accessed July 6, 2014. https://twitter.com/PeteSchaad/status/485304338617614336.
 — Massey, Benjamin. “I Find I’m Starting to Like Jonathan de Guzman.” Maple Leaf Forever!, February 7, 2013. Accessed July 6, 2014. http://www.maple-leaf-forever.com/2013/02/07/i-find-im-starting-to-like-jonathan-de-guzman/.
 — Massey, Benjamin. “The Rachel Quon Quandry.” Maple Leaf Forever!, May 22, 2013. Accessed July 6, 2014. http://www.maple-leaf-forever.com/2013/05/22/the-rachel-quon-quandry/.
 — Vancouver Whitecaps FC. “Marcos Bustos called up to Chile’s U-20 national team.” WhitecapsFC.com, July 6, 2014. Accessed July 6, 2014. http://www.whitecapsfc.com/news/2014/07/marco-bustos-called-chiles-u-20-national-team.