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How Toronto FC’s Jacob Shaffelburg loan to Nashville SC is a return – Tennessean

Jacob Shaffelburg‘s eyes dilated with surprise at the mention of his initial introduction to Tennessee 10 years ago. A move that inspired his path toward professional soccer resembles what brought him back for an opportunity with Nashville SC

When he was 12, the Nova Scotia, Canada, native joined the FC Nashville Heroes, led by former U.S. men’s national team defender Desmond Armstrong, to play in the U.S. Club Soccer National Cup in Chicago in 2012.

“I just remember that kind of faint memory of how hot it was,” Shaffelburg said. “It was a cool experience. That helped me get outside of my bubble of Nova Scotia. Probably started it all with moving away at a young age and just kind of helping that process.”

Shaffelburg now is on loan from Toronto FC through 2022, after the club’s new regime retooled its roster, switching the winger to fullback. But Nashville has given him the chance to shine in his natural position and he’s done that on arrival, scoring two goals in his first five games, settling into Nashville as if he’s been here before.

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From Nashville Heroes to Toronto FC

Mike and Linda Shaffelburg knew of Armstrong because he coached their older son, Zach. After relocating to Nashville, Armstrong turned his full focus to Heroes, and in turn, to Jacob. From there, Shaffelburg set his mind on a professional soccer career.

Shaffelburg spent a month with Sporting Kansas City’s academy in January 2014, with the Heroes becoming an affiliate. But it was at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts, where Toronto took notice.

Shaffelburg surged to Toronto’s senior team under former coach Greg Vanney, scoring three goals — including one in 2021 against Nashville. But the new era under coach Michael Bradley meant signing Italian national team wingers Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.

Shaffelburg started six of 13 games this season for Toronto, recording two assists. Only five appearances were at left wing. Since joining Nashville on Aug. 2, he’s started four of his five appearances — all at left wing.

“There were lots of ups and downs (at Toronto),” Mike Shaffelburg said. “But, that’s what makes you into a good person, if you have struggled … his confidence is coming back.”

‘The missing piece’ to the attack 

Nashville coach Gary Smith said two weeks ago  his team “could not have had a better return” in the Shaffelburg deal. Adding to his goal output, being a left-footed vertical threat and attack-minded player filled a team void.

“Jacob is a great guy,” said forward Hany Mukhtar. “He brings so much speed to the team. That was a little bit of a piece that we were missing. We have the quality, but I think he gives us the depth and he can make the runs. … When he’s on his bike, then it’s hard to catch him.”

Though Smith gave the squad an off day last Wednesday, Shaffelburg came in for a 1v1 session with first assistant coach and winger specialist Steve Guppy. Since 2012, Shaffelburg has capitalized on opportunity. His loan spell with Nashville is no different.

“All those experiences have helped with just getting to know teammates better and just being confident in yourself, wherever you go. Honestly, being here has been amazing. I’ve loved every second of it.”

For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at DHills@gannett.com. Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake. Connect with Drake on Instagram at @drakehillssoccer and on Facebook.