Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia soccer star Shaffelburg at Copa America an ‘achievement for whole family’

For Zachary Shaffelburg, watching his younger brother Jacob emerge as a shining star during team Canada’s first-ever appearance at the Copa America soccer tournament feels like an “achievement for the whole family.”

From Port Williams, N.S., a small town in the Annapolis Valley, Jacob Shaffelburg, 24, turned heads as a second-half substitute during a match against Peru on June 25 when he assisted the only goal of the game, scored by teammate Jonathan David. Then Shaffelburg scored the opening goal on July 5 before Canada knocked out Venezuela 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in the quarterfinals.

His recent displays on the pitch have earned him the nickname the “Maritimes Messi,” after the global superstar Lionel Messi, who just happens to be leading No. 1 Argentina, Canada’s semifinal opponent Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

“Even when he was quite young, he’d be stinging these crazy hard shots at my friends that would try to play in net,” Shaffelburg’s older brother said in an interview Monday.

“He’s worked quite hard for this … I couldn’t be happier that he’s doing this.”

WATCH | Nova Scotia community cheering for hometown star Shaffelburg:

Nova Scotia community cheering for hometown star at Copa America soccer tournament

The stage is set in New Jersey for Team Canada’s semi-final game against Argentina. The event has been a coming out party for Nova Scotia’s Jacob Shaffelburg. Paul Palmeter went to his home community of Port Williams, N.S., where people are getting ready to cheer for him.

Shaffelburg is the only Nova Scotian competing at this year’s Copa America, a quadrennial tournament featuring 10 South American teams and six teams from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

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The team Canada forward left his home province when he was 15 to attend the Berkshire School, a prep school in Massachusetts before getting called up to the professional leagues with the Toronto FC academy. His current home team is Nashville SC, where he plays midfield.

A men's soccer player stands during a training session.
Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni says 37-year-old forward Lionel Messi, pictured, has overcome a hamstring issue and will play in Tuesday’s semifinal game. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Brother played at U.S. soccer academy

The youngest Shaffelburg is not the only one in the family with a love for the game. His older brother also left Nova Scotia at 15 to play at a soccer academy in the United States before going on to the youth national league. Jessica Shaffelburg, the middle sibling, is a great soccer player as well, said Zachary, who credited her influence on Jacob’s early development.

“She definitely didn’t lay off on Jacob at all when it came to tackling him,” he said. “Any hard challenges he’s had this tournament he’s already received from his sister when he was younger.”

To sweeten the victory after his goal against Venezuela, Shaffelburg received a locker-room visit from Sidney Crosby and later shared a photo of Nova Scotia’s hockey hometown hero to social media. Zachary said he hopes his brother’s prowess on the field, combined with the visit from Crosby, will inspire more soccer stars from small-town Nova Scotia.

“When I was a kid, it wasn’t really something you thought was possible, so now it’s nice to have Jacob at that level and so nice to see him with a guy like Crosby because they both put forward what we value a lot in Nova Scotia, which is sometimes to our own detriment: modesty,” he said.

“Our population is smaller and on a national level, there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to Nova Scotia because the assumption is there’s no one that’s good enough for the higher level.”

Zachary will be in the stands Tuesday night for the semifinals against Argentina. He said he booked an open-ended flight down to the United States and hopes his trip ends at the final.

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