The 19-year-old homegrown winger is on the fringe of the Canadian national team roster. He's already been capped, and already scored for Les Rouges, but could his first MLS goal Saturday night help catapult Nelson into a much-sought after spot on John Herdman’s World Cup roster?
“Look, I only speak about what I have seen from working with Jayden this year, and I mentioned throughout preseason that he seems to be excited about the little things that get worked on every day,” Toronto FC manager Bob Bradley said. “We’ve seen him in a more dynamic ways, making more plays on the field in terms of getting away from guys, more moments where his skill, his speed, his quickness catch your eye.
Now the final part is turning that into greater production, and so when a player like that makes a really big play coming on as a sub and scores a great goal, it's something that everybody — every player, every coach was so excited for him in the locker room after the game.”
Nelson had four career MLS starts in 14 games entering the 2022 season. But under a new coach in Bradley, and in his third season with the club, Nelson has taken a step forward with four starts in six matches with 302 minutes already a career high.
“I would agree that Jayden has had some moments where he's gotten into the box and you think he's on the verge of either making the right pass or finishing a chance. That part has to continue to improve. But maybe a goal like tonight makes a big difference in those ways,” Bradley said. “He continues to show that he's got quickness, he's got speed, he's got individual ability on the balls where he can get away from someone. We just have to keep working to put the whole package together.”
With Toronto FC trailing by a goal, Nelson pressed Damir Kreilach on goalkeeper Zac MacMath's quick tossed distribution. The 19-year-old won the ball, took a touch and picked his head up, noticing MacMath still caught off his line and fired from distance to level the score.
“It's definitely up there scoring for my hometown club,” Nelson said of the moment. “It's definitely something I'll cherish for the rest of my life, and I'll remember. I'd say this is like one of the better goals I've scored, so I'm happy about it.”
After the initial elation, Nelson had an agonizing wait to make sure the goal held up on Video Review as a possible foul by him on Kreilach was checked.
“I had a flashback of U-17 World Cup when I scored against New Zealand. I'd kind of been through it already, so I was just praying that it didn't get overruled,” Nelson said. “I had a feeling that it could have been a foul, but thank God it wasn’t.”
Is it a goal that helps Nelson play in another World Cup? That will certainly be part of the intrigue of the next few months.
“I feel like it gives me more confidence to do things in the final third, and it's something that, like I said multiple times, I've been working on,” Nelson said. "So just getting this off my back — like all the young guys scored already, so it's finally that it's my time now.”