The Vancouver Whitecaps have a nasty reputation for ignoring Canadian talent on their first team roster. But when they go looking for youth prospects, they don't mess around. Having already announced the expansion of their Whitecaps Residency program back in April, the team has begun filling out its lineup card for the coming United States Soccer Development Academy season.
Of course, most Residency players don't make headlines but last week there was an exception. The team signed Winnipeg natives Marco Bustos and Ali Musse, both Canadian National Training Centre members. Musse comes out of WSA Winnipeg, whereas Bustos played local soccer and was last in the headlines when he got a ten-day trial with Liverpool. Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun brought it to national attention; the Sun has been a key source for Bustos-related news in the past two years. WSA Winnipeg reports that the team has also invited Moses Danto, holder of one U-17 cap for Canada. Danto is a forward, while both Bustos and Musse are midfielders (Musse is actually listed as a "midfielder/forward/defender", which is rather charming).
Bustos, in particular, is a big name in Canadian soccer circles and his signing has raised excitement among those of us who are excited by that sort of thing. Yet Musse is no shoddy prospect either, having already played against men years older than him with Winnipeg. Neither player is exactly well-known in British Columbia so even us die-hard Whitecaps fans really know what we're in for: I endeavoured to find out.
Of course, Marco Bustos is the big name and has gotten most of the press attention. Son of one-time Winnipeg Fury man Alex Bustos, the 15-year-old Marco was the youngest Canadian ever selected to a National Training Centre program in 2009 (he remained with the Prairie NTC through 2010-11). In late 2010, Bustos received a ten-day trial with Liverpool after his father sent the club a DVD of Bustos's highlights. While that obviously didn't result in anything it got plenty of press coverage. Obviously lots of players get trials with European youth academies; it's the ones who sign you have to look out for. Yet Bustos certainly enjoys a good reputation.
Liverpool trial aside, Bustos has been considered one of the top young prospects in Canada since he was old enough to appear on the radar. He's stuck with the NTC and is still one of the youngest players on the Training Centre roster. Bustos is a natural attacking midfielder with slickness and pace, but not much strength and a need to improve his reaction speed and strength; he's spent time with his father Alex's Manitoba men's league team to develop that.
It's always difficult to tell what a player Bustos's age is going to turn out to be. For all the press he's gotten he's still a 15-year-old kid and the USSDA level is going to be an important stage for him. Plenty of dazzling offensive players without much strength have been bamboozled by tougher, more talented defenders when they made the step up. I certainly wouldn't expect to see much of him with the senior Residency team next year: the USL PDL would be just too big a move. However, the Whitecaps are short on offensive savants under twenty years old, unless Keven Aleman signs. In a hypothetical world where everything goes well, he'd make a marvelous counterweight to all-rounder Bryce Alderson. It's much, much too early to predict anything for Bustos as we all know, but early indications are hopeful.
Bustos is getting the press but the 16-year-old Ali Musse (pronounced "Moose") is another promising prospect. He's a little older and, unlike Bustos, he's had a chance to make his mark at North America's highest level of youth soccer. The midfielder spent last year with WSA Winnipeg in the USL Premier Development League, bagging two goals and an assist in 645 minutes over 13 games, including the rather excellent left-footed finish linked below.
WSA Winnipeg head coach Eduardo Badescu was nice enough to give me some time: he was careful to emphasize that Musse was a boy among men but that he is "very talented". He was a better-than-usual passer on last year's WSA Winnipeg squad, capable of both delivering and receiving the ball with aplomb. He also shoots accurately, though with average power. Both his goals last year (you can watch the other here) were placed shots after doing a nice job corralling the ball. The defense wasn't great in either case but you can go a long way with skills like that.
Musse is quick, he's strong on the attack one-on-one, and he got some results with a Winnipeg team that struggled in its first year despite being one of its youngest players. I may actually be more excited about Musse than Bustos, simply because he has proven he can succeed as a USL PDL player despite being younger than most. His major weakness is his right foot, where Badescu specifically said he needed to improve, which may limit him as a left-sided player for the near future.
Of course, lots of Canadians aren't two-footers. Former national team defender and current pundit Jason de Vos has been taking Canada's lack of two-footed players as a cause celebre. If he wants to play the wing professionally he'd be well-advised to work on his defense as well (as Russell Teibert is learning).
Both Musse and Bustos are likely to begin their Whitecaps playing careers in mid-September, when the USSDA season gets underway in both U-16 and U-18 age groups. There'll be more than a few die-hards from Manitoba hoping to see local boys make good, as the province hasn't made much of an impact on the men's national team since Tony Nocita retired. This may be the beginning of a provincial renaissance.