Nashville SC's Jacob Shaffelburg ascends for Canada at Copa América 

Jacob Shaffelburg - Copa America - Canada

It wasn't supposed to go this way for the three co-hosts of the 2026 FIFA World Cup: USA and Mexico out, and Canada – once the straggling little brother of three – in.

With one goal in three group-stage games, Jesse Marsch’s CanMNT qualified for the quarterfinals of their first Copa América against Venezuela.

Yet, less than two months into his time with the team, there’s little satisfaction in advancing from Group A alongside World Cup champions Argentina.

“There's real confidence in the group and belief that we can keep pushing in this tournament and that we're not done yet,” Marsch said. “We can still improve in almost everything ... we feel like we can be better around the goal, and we can convert some of these half chances into big chances, and some of our big chances into goals.

“We need to have more big moments where we find more goals and real moments to celebrate.”

MLS products lead new wave

While former MLS standouts Alphonso Davies, Cyle Larin and now Ismaël Koné have become European stars, the tournament has provided a grand stage for the next wave of MLS-based Canadians proving their worth with Les Rouges.

For Nashville SC winger Jacob Shaffelburg, it’s been the perfect time for a breakout, and now a chance to impress former USMNT assistant coach B.J. Callaghan, who will be his head coach when he returns to Nashville.

“The hardest moment of my career was just before getting traded to Nashville,” he told OneSoccer, recalling his time bouncing between Toronto FC’s first and second teams. “I would talk to my dad and my mom, trying to figure out the next best step because I was just in a really bad place. ... It was just whether or not to keep playing or what the best option would be.”

At points, Shaffelburg thought of returning to Nova Scotia, where he hails from the small town of Port Williams. Yet, it was Nashville's belief that kept him in MLS and elevated his game.

Since joining Nashville in 2022 and taking guidance from assistant coach Steve Guppy, he’s scored a brace against Inter Miami CF, made a Leagues Cup run, and scored six goals in MLS regular-season play, carving out a place as a fan favorite.

Now, those skills are transferring to the CanMNT, and the “Tennessee Waterslide” is quickly becoming the darling of Canadian soccer supporters as he thrives in Marsch’s high-pressing system.

“The style of play just kind of fits me. [Marsch] tells me just to get in and run behind, and that's all I want to do in general; it's right up my alley,” he said, having assisted on Jonathan David’s goal against Peru.

“It’s easier for me to make a difference with this style of play rather than a very possession-based team slow approach. I guess it's just luck of the draw for me in this tournament.”

Proving Copa savvy

With results from physical battles with Peru and Chile, Canada have looked like a savvy Copa América team. It’s a stark change from the attitudes at the 2022 World Cup when Canada lost all three games under now-TFC head coach John Herdman.

From Herdman’s ideals of brotherhood to Marsch’s focus on grueling sessions in the Southern US heat, it’s not been an easy camp for Canada’s players, many of whom walk off the pitch with long, exhausted faces.

Still, in some ways, camaraderie has quickly allowed new faces to shine and made Canada look like Copa veterans, drawing two red cards while not losing any players to suspension.

“For a young team in this tournament against some experienced, savvy, good opponents, we've looked like an experienced team,” Marsch added. “We've played with intelligence, and that, I think, is a big step for us.”

Now, the tests become more intense, especially as the group moves ahead without former New England Revolution winger Tajon Buchanan, who sustained a fractured tibia in training and underwent surgery in Dallas.

“I recognize that it's a big accomplishment and an accomplishment that wasn't going to be easy. I hope that people are inspired by the team back home,” Marsch said. “We are not satisfied. The group is not satisfied. They want to keep going.”