Greg Vanney takes teen Jacob Shaffelburg's BMO debut in (very fast) stride

TORONTO – Jacob Shaffelburg's sizzling BMO Field debut may have surprised many of the Toronto FC fans in attendance on Wednesday night. Coach Greg Vanney? Not so much.

After the 19-year-old winger made his MLS debut off the bench at FC Dallas last Saturday, Vanney inserted him into his starting XI to play a key role in Toronto's 3-2 win over Atlanta United, setting up the first two goals and causing constant problems up the left flank.

“Outstanding, just outstanding,” Vanney said of Shaffelburg's performance. “There’s a lot of things he still will learn, but the kid can run all day. He’s incredibly fast and puts a ton of pressure on the back-line and the outside backs.”

Although the Nova Scotia native only signed a Homegrown Player contract last week, Vanney sounded like he almost expected him to rise to the moment.

“He’s got a lot of courage,” Vanney said. “One of the things I said about him in preseason was the kid doesn’t seem in awe of anything. He goes out there, he knows who he is, and he just does what he does. Tonight he did it against a very good player in [Michael] Parkhurst — not a right-back per se — but a very smart player and Jacob was able to find some very good moments.” 

Vanney would have liked to have signed the newest member of the Toronto first team to a contract earlier after similar performances in the Concacaf Champions League back in February, but was forced to wait. 

“It’s been a process, through league rules and everything else, to get to this point where we can utilize him," Vanney said. “We had to be patient, get him through his quantity of hours and now we finally got there. We literally signed him a day or two after.”

Shaffelburg joined the TFC Academy in 2016, but spent the majority of the last few seasons at the Berkshire School in Massachusetts — the same spot former New York City FC winger Jack Harrison developed. He signed for TFC II last November and has been a regular in USL League One this season.

Shaffelburg admitted he was "super nervous" in the lead-up, but a simple message from his teammates helped quell those pre-match jitters.

“Everyone on the team came up to me and said, 'Be yourself out there; play your game,'”he said. “That certainly made me feel a lot better going on the field. And once I was on the field, it felt like a normal game.”

Still buzzing from a wild ending that saw Toronto convert a penalty and Atlanta miss one deep in stoppage time, Shaffelburg savoured a first MLS win that arrived as his family looked on.

“An amazing feeling, especially that was the most fans I’ve played in front of before," he said. “I gave my mom a big hug after the game and my dad – she was all teared up. It was amazing.”

Toronto must regroup quickly to visit D.C. United on Saturday night (8 pm ET | TSN 2, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US), they do so with another weapon in the squad.

“I'm not going to put any pressure on him, say, 'You've got to play like this every game,'" Vanney said. "It's a career and careers have steps. He was fantastic tonight, we'll regroup and see what kind of role he can play on the weekend. He gives us another real option that we know can make a difference in this league.”