VANCOUVER, BC – Moments before Canada kicked off against Argentina in their final match of the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese turned to each other, shook hands, and said: “Brothers for life.”
Fast forward four and half months, as Bustos and Froese made their first-team debut against Toronto FC on Wednesday, they had a similar interaction.
Froese speaks to reporters after Wednesday's match
"Starting the game again with my brother on the other side was great," Froese told reporters after the match.
It’s a memory Froese said he will never forget.
As members of Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s full-time Residency program, he and Bustos have shared more than a few memories over the last few years. Like all Residency players, they see a lot of each other over the course of a regular day – whether it’s in the gym, on the training pitch, or at school.
One of the goals of the club's Residency program is to create a professional environment for the players on and off the pitch, meaning there is little time for extracurriculars outside of their day-to-day activities. A natural byproduct of that is the relationships that are built between the players.
In the case of Bustos and Froese, however, their friendship began well before they joined the 'Caps youth system. Growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the two players have known each other since they were six or seven years old.
Their families lived within five minutes of one another in the north end of the city and would often get together for dinners. In the local soccer league, they always played against each other but on occasion the duo played on the same team in tournaments arranged by Bustos’ father.
“We became friends right away,” Bustos told whitecapsfc.com. “Once I met him and we played together a couple times, we were friends right there.”
And so began a friendship that has now lasted over a decade. It wasn’t always easy, though.
Froese, who was born in Havana, Cuba, went back and forth to his home country as a child. He and Bustos tried to keep in touch through email, but when Froese couldn’t get access to the internet in Cuba the two would sometimes go several months without speaking.
But they always picked up where they left off – as was the case in 2012 when Froese came to Vancouver to become a member of the Residency program. Bustos had joined the club a year prior when Froese was travelling in Europe.
Since then, their relationship has only blossomed – to the point where they consider each other family.
"We fight like brothers and we argue like brothers," Froese laughed.
“I always thought of him as a brother … but now it actually seems like we’re brothers,” Bustos added. “It’s good. Being where we are today, having the same dream, and growing up as best friends … is not something many people can say they’ve experienced. It’s heartwarming.”
On the pitch, things are a little more spirited. Whether they were on the same team or opposing ones, whether it’s in games or training, Bustos and Froese are always trying to “be better than each other,” according to their Residency teammate Sam Adekugbe.
“That’s a good thing for us Residency players as well,” said Adekugbe, who lives with Bustos at a billet home in Vancouver. “It only makes us realize that we have to keep pushing ourselves and keep wanting to make ourselves better players. With Kianz and Marco, you’ve been able to see that happen.”
“Between me and him, it’s almost like a competition,” Bustos chucked. “We both want the spotlight.”
And they’re both starting to get it.
The gifted attacking midfielders have been a force for Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency this season. Bustos leads the team with 14 goals in 19 appearances, and Froese isn't far behind with 11 goals in 17 appearances.
The 18-year-olds have also had opportunities to develop with the first team, meaning they often train with the 'Caps MLS squad and play in the MLS Reserve League. And they both made their professional debut on Wednesday, as Robinson fielded a youthful squad in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal.
Teams can play up to six Canadian academy players in the Canadian Championship even if they're not signed to MLS contracts.
There's still a long road ahead, but both players appear to be on the right track towards realizing their professional dreams.
“We always joke around and laugh about that,” Froese said. “It’d just be great."
“We’re both trying to make that step,” Bustos added. “We both think we have a future here in Vancouver. It’d be amazing for us to both play professionally here and successfully say that we did it together.”
It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.