April 17th, 2024

Former Newcastle midfielder Matty Longstaff looks forward to new start with TFC

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on March 2, 2024.

Newly-signed Toronto FC midfielder Matty Longstaff holds up his jersey after training in Toronto on Friday, March 1, 2024. Just 23, Longstaff arrives at Toronto FC with some memorable markers already on his resume. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson

TORONTO – Just 23, Matty Longstaff arrives at Toronto FC with some memorable markers already on his footballing resume.

While injuries have disrupted the former Newcastle midfielder’s career path, Toronto coach John Herdman hopes Longstaff has more special moments in him.

Longstaff joined Newcastle when he was 10, working his way up through the ranks to join older brother Sean in the first team.

Sent on loan to Scotland’s Aberdeen and League Two sides Mansfield Town and Colchester United in England, Matty made just 20 first-team appearances for Newcastle with three goals.

But each of the scores was special.

Longstaff turned heads in October 2019 in a 1-0 win over Manchester United, becoming – at 19 years 199 days – the youngest player to score in his Premier League debut for Newcastle

His rocket-like right-footed strike from outside the penalty box was voted Premier League goal of the month, marking the first time a player won the award with a goal on their debut since August 2016.

Longstaff did it again against the Red Devils in December 2019, taking a pass from Brazil’s Joelinton in the penalty box and scoring on a low shot to the corner at Old Trafford in a 4-1 loss.

And he produced another highlight-reel goal in January 2020 in a 4-1 win over Rochdale, then in England’s League One, in an FA Cup third-round replay.

Longstaff, between two defenders with his back to goal, looked to control Matt Ritchie’s cross into the box with his left foot. The ball came off his foot and hit one of the defenders, bouncing towards goal. Longstaff controlled the ball on his right thigh then coolly knocked it home past goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, a Spanish international now with Chelsea.

At the time, it was his third goal in eight starts for Newcastle.

The Longstaffs are now members of the small band of brothers who have scored in the FA Cup, joining the likes of Yaya and Kolo Toure, Sammy and Shola Ameobi, Michael and Will Keane, and Josh and Jacob Murphy.

Longstaff tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee playing for Colchester at Gillingham on Boxing Day 2022. Sidelined for much of the season due to a hamstring injury, Longstaff was hurt just eight minutes after entering the game and was taken off the field on a stretcher in stoppage time.

Newcastle released him last June but allowed him to continue his rehab at its facilities.

“I’m very lucky the club looked after me. I was there for the full 13 months (of recovery),” he said.

Herdman and Longstaff share the same roots.

A native of Consett, just southwest of Newcastle, Herdman grew up supporting the Magpies. Longstaff was born in Rotherham, some 200 kilometres south, but is quick to note: “I moved to Newcastle the next day.”

Herdman was in Newcastle prior to Christmas and met with Dan Ashworth, then Newcastle’s sporting director,

“He felt (Longworth) was in a great place and could maybe kick his career on again.”

TFC brought Longstaff in as a trialist during training camp, giving him an audition in the final pre-season game against Los Angeles FC.

“A really good 30 minutes once he got into his rhythm,” said Herdman, who likes both his character off the pitch and “next-level touch (and) passing ability” on it.

Longstaff, who has signed a two-year contract with an option for 2026 with Toronto, may not be ready to make his debut Sunday at New England, however.

“The (artificial) turf this weekend is a challenge for him,” said Herdman. “He’s obviously coming off that ACL and he’s on only his second potential game. So for us, it’s not really worth the risk. He might travel with the team, he might be on the bench. But I’m looking more next week for the home opener (March 9 against Charlotte FC) and beyond, putting him in the right conditions to minimize any risk to him.”

Longstaff, who made two appearances for the England under-20 team, is looking forward to a new start in MLS.

“I’ve been around a little but I’m still only 23,” he said. “So I’ve got plenty of years ahead of us.”

Longstaff arrives in Canada no stranger to ice hockey. His father David represented Britain more than 100 times and played more than 1,000 club games, mostly in England but also in Sweden.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2024.

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