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A Screeching Halt

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Momentum is only as good as your last game, but for Jacob Shaffelburg, this international break couldn't have come at a worse time.

(Sean Pollock/Waking The Red)

Imagine the despair of every sports car owner’s yearly struggle: their annual winter of discontent.

Your sports car has been in the garage all winter long, you’ve been waiting for the weather to finally clear up so you can get it all shined up, gassed, and oiled – and ready and take it on the country road. After a few false starts of only occasional breaks in the forecast, and some rather disappointing car rides, you finally find the perfect spring day and take it for a grand tour along the long and winding road, and the machine comes roaring back to life.

There’s a spark in every turn, a hum of the engine finally letting you know that it’s found its rhythm; you remember what this feels like again, an experience that had been for far too long relegated to the nether regions of your memory, unsure if you’d ever feel this joy again.

And after a few hours, as you approach the river crossing... ‘screeeeeech!’

You have to slam the brakes because it turns out the bridge is going to be up for two weeks, and your ride has just come to a screeching halt.

Congratulations. You now know what it feels like to be Jacob Shaffelburg.

(Sean Pollock/Waking The Red)

After a few promising starts and occasional games of delight for Toronto FC in the last few seasons, it never really seemed like Shaffelburg got multiple strings of games going like he has in recent weeks. This current version of Shaffelburg is the kind that has fans, like me, starting to wonder whether he may be making a case for being in the starting XI permanently come 2022, no matter what other TAM players or DPs are on the team alongside him.

This is a player who has now started to make more purposeful runs down the left wing, as part of a three-pronged attack with Yeferson Soteldo and Achara. He’s now a winger who’s learned to make more dangerous crosses from the wing and into the 18 yard box, and if the opportunity presents itself, take his opponent on 1v1, make a dangerous move into the attacking zone and take the shot himself–all of which are attributes he didn't seem to show on the regular previously.

In fact, the Canadian international has scored or assisted on seven of Toronto FC’s last twelve goals (two goals, five assists), which is why the international break hurts him so much.

When you are playing with this much confidence and finally finding your stride, the last thing you want to do is to shut it down for two weeks and not get regular playing time. Despite being a call-up for the Canadian men’s national team this international window for an important slate of World Cup Qualifiers, it will be unlikely that he supplants any of the wingers making up the forward depth for Canada currently. When you have a young player like Jacob finally flourishing, you would rather have games every third day, as opposed to a lengthy break which can cool you off, or have an abidance of time to possibly overthink, or just find yourself falling out of favour with that cruel mistress who can abandon you at any second without a notice: momentum.

The other concern for the Jacob Shaffelburg Fan Club is that with two weeks of non-game action, it means more people can return to the Toronto FC lineup and resume their regularly slotted role in the Starting XI, and perhaps more importantly, cause Shaffleburg to be shuffled back on to the bench in favour of more expensive veterans, like Alejandro Pozuelo.

When the car is roaring, you want to push the pedal to the medal and test out what this engine can give you. You want to see what’s really underneath the hood, and see if what you thought was just a serviceable city car may actually be a roadster in disguise. The last thing you want to have happen is for someone to slam the brakes and cause the tires to come to a screeching halt just as you’re about to shift it into a higher gear.

Unfortunately for Shaffelburg, this international break may just do exactly that. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the light turns green again. Here’s hoping.