Jacob Shaffelburg participated in his first full training session with Nashville SC on Friday. Joining on loan from Toronto FC on August 2, the young Canadian winger had to wade through the visa process and make the move to Music City before he could get on the field. With just two days of training to go before a crucial home match against FC Dallas, anything other than an appearance off the bench seemed like a stretch.
And then head coach Gary Smith gave Shaffelburg the start. In keeping with the roller coaster of the prior week and a half, he scored.
“A dream start,” the 22-year-old gushed after the match. “I don’t even know if I could have dreamed how well tonight went.”
For Shaffelburg, it was an emotional and long-awaited start to his Nashville SC career. With a new manager and a slew of new signings at his preferred positions, playing time was hard to come by. Heading into Sunday, he’d played just 714 minutes in 13 matches under Bob Bradley. Since July 9, he’d played more than three minutes on just one occasion, and that playing time became even more sparse as Toronto looked for a loan move.
“Since there was a little rough patch with [Toronto FC], obviously I wasn’t playing all that much. So to come in here and have the trust from all the teammates and the coach, and to score, it was amazing honestly,” he said.
Shaffelburg’s inclusion in the starting XI was accelerated by Nashville’s need for attacking help and a strong showing in his limited training sessions.
“You can see from the fact that he started the game that I was certainly keen for him to add that type of vertical threat that he presents, that natural left-sided play when he got himself in a good position,” said head coach Gary Smith.
The transition on the field came naturally to Shaffelburg, in large part because of his immediate connections with Nashville’s key attackers. Hany Mukhtar and C.J. Sapong “make everything much easier”, and Smith asked the young Canadian to play in a much more natural role.
“I’ve always grown up as a heels-on-the-sideline winger,” he admitted. “That’s what they want from me, so it’s kind of a weight off my back. I’m back to my old roots. So I’m just doing what I know. It’s amazing.”
Nashville will hope Shaffelburg can continue doing what he knows, stretching the field and finding space in the final third, as they continue the fight for the postseason. The Coyotes have another six-pointer on the schedule against Vancouver Whitecaps this Saturday.