April 24th, 2024

No stranger to firsts, TFC teenager Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty opens MLS scoring account

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on March 17, 2024.

Toronto FC's Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, left, fights for control of the ball with New York City FC's Monsef Bakrar (9) in the second half of an MLS soccer match, Saturday, March 16, 2024, in New York. Marshall-Rutty has been around long enough at Toronto FC that it's hard to believe he's still only 19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Frank Franklin II

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty has been around long enough at Toronto FC that it’s hard to believe he’s still only 19.

Signing a homegrown contract as a 15-year-old – in January 2020 – gives you a long runway, however.

The five-foot-seven, 154-pounder from Brampton, Ont., celebrated his first MLS goal Saturday, opening the scoring in the seventh minute of his 54th career league appearance (and 59th in all competitions). While Toronto (2-1-1) eventually succumbed 2-1 at New York City FC (1-3-0) at Yankee Stadium, it was a moment to remember.

“It’s been a long journey but it would have been nicer, for sure, if we won,” said Marshall-Rutty, who turns 20 on June 16. “But it’s a good start.”

Midfielder Alonso Coello’s long pass from well inside the Toronto half split the New York defence and found Marshall-Rutty steaming towards the penalty box. He sliced in between defenders Thiago Martins and Mitja Ilenic and, two deft touches later, rounded goalkeeper Matt Freese and knocked the ball home.

“It’s a big moment for a young man that’s been craving that moment,” said Toronto coach John Herdman, who had hoped to use Marshall-Rutty’s speed to stretch the New York defence. “We’re proud of him. He got his goal and hopefully he can kick on from this.”

After the goal, Marshall-Rutty peeled away and raced across the field to celebrate with the Toronto substitutes.

“Before the game, I told Kobe (Franklin) and some of the younger players that I had a feeling I’m going to score and when I do I’m going to run over to them because, like I said, my teammates are a big part of the reason I scored,” Marshall-Rutty explained.

The goal celebration was a smaller version of the happy ball of humanity at the Toronto bench that followed Italian star Lorenzo Insigne’s long-range winner in the win over Charlotte FC a week earlier in Toronto’s home opener.

“Sort of similar to Lorenzo’s goal, it kind of shows where we are as a group,” said Marshall-Rutty. “When we score, the first thing you want to do is just celebrate with everyone “¦ I just wanted to share that moment.”

In welcoming Marshall-Rutty to the first-team ranks, then-GM Ali Curtis suggested the sky’s the limit for the teen.

“Jahkeele is the top player in his age group across Canada and the U.S, and he is among the top young players in all of North America,” Curtis said at the time. “He is an incredibly talented young man. While he’s only 15 years old, he plays the game in very mature way. He had interest from many top clubs in Europe.

“It’s important that we are both patient and aggressive with Jahkeele’s development, but he has the potential to be an incredible player moving forward.”

Previously, the youngest to sign a Toronto first-team contract was defender Doneil Henry, who was 17 in 2010.

In some ways, Marshall-Rutty has been a victim of his own versatility. Nimble on his feet and good with the ball, he is listed as a forward on Toronto’s roster. But he is more commonly seen as a winger/wingback.

And while Italian stars Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi occupied the flanks under former coach Bob Bradley, Herdman’s style of play offers more opportunities on the wing.

“For sure It’s been a journey and a ride for me “¦ I’m 19 years old and I think it’s my fifth year. But I’ve gone through so much with COVID and different coaches,” said Marshall-Rutty. “So I think, In a way, it’s just made me more mature. I don’t look at anything as a negative. I just take the positives.

“I think I’ve learned so much from all these years, facing adversity, living in different places for months (during the pandemic when TFC relocated to the U.S. because of travel restrictions) without my family, It’s just made me grow up faster.”

Marshall-Rutty was 14 when he joined TFC II on Dec. 17, 2018, becoming the youngest player to sign with the reserve side. He made his pro debut in USL League One off the bench on June 28, 2019.

Marshall-Rutty had turned heads in April 2019 at the Generation Adidas Cup under-15 final, roofing a swerving shot from the outside of his boot against Chivas de Guadalajara. The goal was his fourth of the tournament following game-winners against Club Leon and Cruz Azul.

In January 2021, still 16, he became the youngest-ever call-up by the national men’s team, beating Alphonso Davies by five days.

A Canadian youth international at the under-15 level, Marshall-Rutty is still waiting on his first senior cap. Davies, who made his debut for Canada a week after being called into camp, remains the youngest Canadian male to earn a cap.

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

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2024

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