Chelsea’s Michael Bustamante, the New York Red Bulls’ first-round pick in the 2013 MLS draft (13th overall), will have a chance to see his hometown team Saturday night when the Revolution travel to Red Bull Arena.
And although he doesn’t expect to see playing time, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a year of big strides.
Born in Colombia and raised in Chelsea, Bustamante’s only dream of personal success revolved around a soccer ball, and a team to play on. He found them at Chelsea High School, where he led the Red Devils to the postseason all four seasons he played on the team.
After graduating in 2008, he played at Boston University, where he immediately made himself known, earning America East Conference Midfielder of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors. Bustamante was named to the all-conference first-team four times at BU (despite missing the 2011 season with a leg injury).
“Obviously, going through the combine and the draft is tough. I wasn’t one of the highest picks, and I certainly wasn’t expecting for New York to pick me,” said Bustamante. “When they called my name, I couldn’t help but feel excited to play with guys like Thierry Henry.”
During the Red Bulls’ preseason trip to Tucson, Ariz., for the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, Bustamante scored in the first match against Real Salt Lake. It was there he was noticed again.
“I made a name for myself during the preseason,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have the coaches like me and my abilities, and that earned me a roster spot. It’s all been a positive journey for me.”
Bustamante has played in four regular-season games, including his first career start Sept. 14 against Toronto FC, where he recorded his first professional career point: an assist on Henry’s goal in the 32d minute.
“Scoring my first point was definitely a sense of accomplishment. I feel I’ve come a long way since playing soccer at Chelsea. I found something special here, playing with the guys I'm playing with. All I felt was that hopefully it can get better from here.”
And with team captain Henry speaking his praises, Bustamante’s stock seems only to be headed up.
“It’s not every day you have one of the all-time best guiding you on the field. He’s always speaking to me on the field and helping me. He’s really taken me under his wing,” said Bustamante. “I’ve been lucky enough to become good friends with Henry. He lectures me a lot and tells me I’m going to do great things in the future. And playing with him is something I’ll never forget. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Red Bulls (15-9-7), who lead the league in points (52), will punch a ticket to the playoffs with a victory Saturday.
The Revolution (11-11-8, 41 points), tied for sixth in the East standings, need the win to remain in the hunt for the fifth and final playoff spot. But the Revolution are 0-4 at Red Bull Arena since 2010, although they have gone 0-1-1 against the Red Bulls this season. They are currently riding a seven-game streak of scoring at least one goal.
And although Bustamante’s team is in much better shape, even with a loss, he’s still not rooting for his hometown squad.
“I won’t be playing in the game, but that doesn’t matter to me,’’ he said. “If we win, we’re in the playoffs.”