Midfielder Marco Bustos of Island-based Pacific FC had an adventurous Saturday at the Canadian national team training camp in Bradenton, Florida.
Two scheduled 70-minute scrimmages against the United States were cancelled due to a COVID-19 scare. Four inconclusive Canadian tests eventually came back negative, but it was too late to reschedule with the camps ending today. Both teams are in their own bubbles at the IMG Complex.
“Obviously, we’re living in COVID reality,” Bustos said from Florida. “It was upsetting not to get to play the [world No. 22] U.S. because we were all looking forward to it.”
The Canadian players had to be content, instead, with an intra-squad Canadian scrimmage. Bustos had a penalty kick stopped by MLS Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, but Whitecaps forward Theo Blair scored on the rebound for the 1-0 victory by the Red team over the White squad.
“I had been shooting on [Crepeau] the day before in practice and I guess he knew which way I go,” said Bustos.
“But we scored on the rebound so that made me feel a little bit better about missing the penalty. It was still an opportunity to show what I can bring to the national team.”
The camp is preparation for Canada’s 2022 World Cup and Tokyo Olympics qualifying campaigns and the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. A deep pool of players is going to be needed.
“Canada is going in the right direction,” said Bustos.
“There are tons of players to choose from. Canada couldn’t say that before.”
Bustos joined the 29 players in the Canadian camp after his six previous caps for Canada were followed by a period with no call-ups. Bustos earned his second chance by leading PFC with five goals and three assists in 10 games during the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 Canadian Premier League season played in a bubble in Charlottetown, P.E.I. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder was among three finalists for the CPL MVP award. Before his senior national team caps, Bustos played for Canada 14 times at the under-17 and under-20 levels.
“This was a good experience and I think I showed during the camp what I can bring to the national team program,” said Bust os, who has a long travel day back to Victoria followed by quarantine.
Not in the Canadian camp at Florida were Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich, Jonathan David of Lille and goalkeeper Milan Borjan of Red Star Belgrade because of their European pro commitments and because the camp fell outside the official FIFA international calendar.
Canada’s next men’s soccer games, pre-pandemic, were scheduled for last March against Trinidad and Tobago at Westhills Stadium in Langford before being cancelled.
No one then could have anticipated Canada would not have another scheduled game until Saturday, and even that would be cancelled.
Now forced to go the long route, No. 72 Canada will need to play 20 games to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Home venues have not been announced. Most of the first- and second-round games will be against CONCACAF minnows.
It is expected Westhills Stadium, soon to be renamed Starlight Stadium, will be in consideration for those early-round games because they don’t require facilities the size of B.C. Place or BMO Field in Toronto. But the issue of capacity is probably moot because it is unlikely spectators will be allowed.
First-round World Cup qualifying for Canada begins on March 25 at home against 169th-ranked Bermuda and continues March 28 at No. 193 Cayman Islands, June 5 at No. 200 Aruba and June 8 at home against No. 141 Suriname.