Marco Bustos - Canada - 2013 FIFA Under 17 World Cup

CHEONAN, South Korea – With Julian de Guzman’s international career likely over and Atiba Hutchinson’s future with the Canadian program up in the air, a large hole is up for grabs in the middle of the Canada national team midfield.

With a strong performance in Friday's 2-0 loss to South Korea, Vancouver Whitecaps prospect Marco Bustos staked an early claim as a player who could be one to help fill that void.

“Going into the game, I just wanted to have fun. I thought I put in a free mind and the team behind me did well,” said Bustos, who’s spent more time in the USL with the Whitecaps FC 2 this season than with the first team in MLS.

“I thought everyone did well. I don’t think I can pinpoint myself, but I think overall it was a good learning experience for the boys.”

It’s been a longstanding knock against the Canadian program that there’s been a lack of players with the creativity and skill to unlock teams and create opportunities. But Bustos showed flashes of just those traits.

Against a South Korean team that wasn’t quite using a top lineup, but remained strong, Bustos proved a handful in winning some space in possession and drawing a number of hard tackles.

But the first thing for Bustos is to make that step up to the MLS level in the new year. With the Whitecaps' 2017 preseason not far off and a series of important CONCACAF Champions League games right at the start of the year, Winnipeg native Bustos will have to be ready the first time he laces on his boots.

“Next year will be a big year for myself trying to get a spot into this team and go back to the Whitecaps and try to solidify a spot for myself there,” Bustos said.

“The players who are going to be ready for that first Champions League game are going to be the fittest, and I think going into camp fit is possible. I think it would give me a big chance to go into those games and get minutes.”