Though the 2018 World Cup qualification door has closed for Canada, a window of opportunity has now opened for some of the nation’s bright young talents.
Jordan Hamilton and Marco Bustos, a pair of 20-year-olds, are the two youngest players taking part in Canada’s current training camp in Morocco, under the tutelage of interim head coach Michael Findlay.
Both came on as substitutes in Canada’s 4-0 win over Mauritania on Thursday, each earning their second senior-team caps in the process. And both see this camp as an opportunity to establish themselves as key members of the national team in the years ahead.
“We have to start thinking about it now, the process of getting to that 2022 World Cup,” said Bustos, a Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder who’s featured regularly this season for Whitecaps 2 in the USL.
“I do believe that if I keep going the way I am, I can be part of that group … it’ll be a prime age for us younger guys to step up at that moment.”
This camp has been an eye-opening experience for the pair both on and off the field. Neither had ever been to Africa before; Hamilton reckons the trip to Marrakesh was the longest one he’s ever taken.
“It’s nice to see a different part of the world that you’ve never been in before,” said the Toronto FC striker. “But it’s worth it to put on the Canadian shirt, so I’m happy to be here.”
Hamilton has worn red jerseys for years now, having joined the Toronto FC Academy and debuted with Canada’s Under-17 squad in 2011, at age 15. But this season has been Hamilton’s breakthrough campaign with TFC’s senior side, and he’s hoping to become similarly entrenched with the Canadian team.
“This is like a ‘do-or-die’ type thing, there’s no more U-20, U-23 types of teams to fall back on,” said Hamilton. “You’ve really got to push for a spot with the senior team … so I have to really seize my opportunity every day now.”
Bustos, a native of Winnipeg, has seen his career follow a similar trajectory. He joined the Whitecaps Residency program in 2011 and made his Canadian youth team debut two years later.
His one prior senior-team appearance came in a friendly against Ghana in October 2015. Coincidentally, Findlay was behind the Canadian bench that day (filling in for since-departed manager Benito Floro), and Bustos said he was glad to learn of Findlay’s recently-expressed desire to see the national team begin to adopt a more attacking mindset.
“I think we want to go out there and show we can be an attack-minded team,” said Bustos. “We want to get results. But at the end of the day, it’s about developing what we’re trying to achieve and if we go out and do things properly, and we look like an attack-minded team and create a lot of chances, that’s the most important thing.”
While Hamilton is also excited about the prospect of putting his attacking instincts on display, he says he did gain valuable experience in several camps under Floro.
“He’s an amazing coach and taught me a lot of things,” said Hamilton of Floro. “Every coach has a different style and hopefully Michael Findlay, or whoever is the next head coach, we can implement his style and see success.”
The team has time to figure out what that new style will be, of course, with Canada’s next World Cup qualifier about three years away.
And though the team’s recent elimination from Russia 2018 contention still stings for players and supporters alike, the hard work has already begun on preparing a group to compete for a spot at Qatar 2022.
“We can’t do anything about the past,” said Hamilton. “We can only move forward and put our best foot forward, to future successes.”
The next step is Tuesday’s match against Morocco, and while both Hamilton and Bustos are itching to get their first starts for the senior team, neither is taking anything for granted.
“If I get a start that would be amazing. But at the end of the day, I just want to get minutes,” said Bustos. “I’ll seize any opportunity I’m given.”