Canadian Flag at the BMO stadium

With Canada Day just behind us, we should all be filled with a little extra Canadian Pride. For football fans (yes…I am calling “soccer” by its birth name), there are even more reasons to proudly wave the Red and White. I’m not talking about our National teams’ surprise, early exits from the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the men’s CONCACAF Gold Cup (although there are still many positives to take from both competitions).  I’m talking closer to home.  Right here in the GTA.  In case you haven’t heard, our local MLS Club has enjoyed a mini-resurgence of sorts and, book-ending this mini turnaround are two, young Canadian lads.

Jacob Shaffelburg playing for Toronto FC
Jacob Shaffelburg | credit: TOM SZCZERBOWSKI, USA TODAY SPORTS

Jacob Shaffelburg.  You’re forgiven if the name doesn’t echo as loudly as Jozy Altidore or Michael Bradley.  But, in two of Toronto’s past three matches, the 19-year-old from Nova Scotia has done what other TFC giants can’t do: provide speed and offensive prowess down the left flank.  In the team’s recent win over Atlanta, and their subsequent draw versus DC United, “Shaffelburg was scintillating” (put that on a t-shirt!).  In both matches, his pace and poise (another t-shirt) gave the Reds a threat down the wing that kept their opponents off balance.  His deft crosses led to an assist and multiple scoring chances – most of which were missed because his teammates probably weren’t expecting such artful passing.  Not since Raheem Edwards toiled for Toronto FC (another local lad from Mississauga), has this team enjoyed such effective deliveries from the left side.

Richie Laryea playing for Toronto Fc
Richie Laryea | credit: KEVIN SOUSA, USA TODAY SPORTS

Richie Laryea.  A 24-year-old from Toronto who, just four short years ago was playing amateur football for Mississauga-based Sigma FC in the Ontario League, has been Toronto’s recent spark on the right side of the pitch.  A long-time midfielder, Laryea’s speed and ability to squeeze through tight spaces along the touchlines, has gifted Toronto with offensive creativity on the right to balance Shaffelburg’s contributions on the left.  Against Atlanta and DC, Laryea notched one assist and enticed the opposition into taking nine fouls!  Nine!  One foul led directly to the stoppage-time, game-winning penalty kick that snapped the longest winless streak in Club history (8 games).  Not bad for a local lad who was cast aside by Orlando SC at the end of last season, eh?!

Caution: while these recent successes are worthy of celebration, no one should expect the souvenir stands to be flooded with Shaffelburg and Laryea jerseys (or t-shirts) just yet.  TFC’s most recent contest against the LA Galaxy served as a reminder that both players are young and still somewhat green.  But, perhaps their youthful exuberance and relative lack of experience has left them unjaded and able to play a brand of football that is a little more free-flowing than some of their teammates.  Whatever the reason, the Red & White has been key to the Reds’ recent resurgence.  Their play, and that of other, young GTA-ers like Liam Fraser, Jay Chapman and Ryan Telfer are reminders that the next professional footballer is probably playing on a small patch of grass somewhere in the GTA this very weekend.

So, the next time that you are at BMO Field, fly the flag a little higher and take additional pride in the fact that Canadian talent has fueled our Toronto Football Club to success against some of the best in North America, and will probably continue to do so for years to come.