Luca Gluckman had to think carefully about what he wanted to ask Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Marco Bustos.
“What are you allergic to?” the five-year-old asked Bustos on Wednesday at Lakeside Park. Other queries included his favourite colour (blue) and his favourite player (Barcelona’s Lionel Messi).
Bustos was in town to chat with young players during the Whitecaps Kootenays’ event, which ran Monday to Friday and included over 100 players taking part in skills camps and games. Bustos said he never had the opportunity growing up to meet Major League Soccer players.
“There weren’t professional environments around so we weren’t fortunate to have someone come in for us,” said the 20-year-old. “But I think moving to Vancouver and being around a bunch of professionals, I’m very blessed for that. Hopefully I can inspire some of these kids here.”
Bustos joined the Whitecaps residency program in September 2011. He was named the club’s most promising player in 2013 and made his MLS debut last October, the same week he also earned his first international cap with Canada’s senior men’s team.
His biggest career moment thus far was the winning goal in Canada’s under-20 friendly match against England in March — not bad for someone playing professionally despite having developed in a small soccer market like Winnipeg.
Bustos’s message Wednesday was that anyone could go pro, no matter where they are from.
“I think really what it is is love for the game and every time you play just be happy,” said Bustos. “At this age what you want is as many touches on the ball [and] be happy when you are playing. At this age you can’t really teach in a way. I think it’s off instinct. … I think for these kids what they really need to do is listen to their coaches and keep grinding it out and hopefully they keep that love for the game and get out to Vancouver and promote themselves there.”
The Whitecaps have sent a player to Nelson every year now since the event began. Former captain Jay DeMerit and centre back Tim Parker have also made the trip, which regional head coach Brett Adams said is a big influence on young Kootenay players.
“It’s massive. They wear that badge on their shirt and they might not know too much about it, but when a real-life player comes to town they can share real-life experiences,” said Adams. “I guarantee from this, these kids at some stage will see [Bustos] up on the TV and they get to say they met him. They get to say they asked him a question about how he got there. That’s a cool thing for a small town of 900 soccer players.
“If they’re one of those players who get to reference his career or reference him on the TV, that could mean a six year old when they go home they tell their parents, ‘I want to become a professional soccer player.’ That could happen today. That’s the beauty of having the pros come out. It makes a massive difference to what we do.”
Bustos was game Wednesday. He visited with several groups of players, offering insight into what playing soccer for a living takes. Getting the opportunity to come to Nelson, he said, was one of the fun parts about his job.
“Yeah, there’s up and downs on the field and off the field, but this is one of the perks of being a pro soccer player off the field, for sure,” he said.
And for the record, Bustos has no allergies.