On a night where nothing went to plan, there were few bright spots.
Toronto FC lost the opening leg of the 2019 Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 tie against Panamanian side CA Independiente de la Chorrera on Tuesday night by a 4-0 score, putting them in a hole ahead of next week's second leg at BMO Field.
One highlight was the debut of 19-year-old TFC II winger Jacob Shaffelburg, who came on in the 57th minute and provided a spark on an otherwise dreary night.
“It felt good,” said Shaffelburg post-match. “I was super nervous when we were warming up, but a couple of guys came up, said, 'Find your head, go and do your thing, take on players.' I tried to do just that. It didn't really work out as I would have liked it to, but I learn from what happened today.”
Signed to a USL contract in November, Shaffelburg spent preseason in California with the first team ahead of the match in Panama.
Greg Vanney's message to the teenager was simple.
“Be confident, trust your abilities, and do what you're supposed to do,” relayed Shaffelburg. “Get outside on the wing and take on your guy. I tried to do that as much as I could.”
In January, Vanney provided a synopsis of the teen's talent: “A dynamic winger, can play left side or right side. He can run, flat out; has got good timing with his runs; can get behind back-lines and cause problems. I'm excited about having him here on a permanent basis to see how quick he can push through the system.”
A native of Port Williams, Nova Scotia, Shaffelburg prior to signing had previously trained with the club and the TFC Academy intermittently, while attending the Berkshire School in Massachusetts.
His performance, both the cameo against Independiente and in preseason, has caught the attention of his coach and teammates alike.
“He's obviously just getting his feet wet, but even in preseason he has shown that he has real quality,” said Michael Bradley. “He's a kid who is not afraid, has speed, the ability to run with the ball; when he gets into position with the ball on his left-foot he knows how to put [it] into dangerous areas.”
“And he's a great kid,” added Bradley. “We'll continue to push him along in a good way.”
The Champions League allows for an expanded roster of 35 players, but Vanney said pre-match that Shaffelburg could earn himself a spot with the first team.
“In the short term, we can expand our roster for the Champions League, of which he will be one,” said Vanney on Friday. “In terms of the MLS roster, he has an opportunity. He's put himself out there as a guy who can help our team; that we'd like to bring along.”
That first appearance in the bag, Shaffelburg and the rest of the squad turn their attention to the home leg at BMO Field and overturning the four-goal deficit.
“We're already preparing for that game,” said Shaffelburg. “Right after, Greg was talking about how preparation starts now for the next game. We're going to come back to BMO, bring it, and get the result that we need to move on.”
Asked if a comeback was possible, Vanney was adamant: “Of course it's possible.”
“It's 90 more minutes. We've got to be far more efficient, be able to manage things better on the counterattack, be able to play out of our shape better and we've got to take our chances,” continued Vanney. “It will be a far different setting than it was here: it will be cold, the grass will be wet, the game will be a lot faster, the ball will move a lot faster. I expect our team to compete at an entirely different level after the embarrassment of today.”