It’s not hard for Atlético Ottawa’s Vashon Neufville to name the highlight of his pro career so far.
On Jan. 6, 2019, he started at left-back for Newport County as they hosted Leicester City in the third round of the FA Cup. On loan at Newport from West Ham United at the time, Neufville’s introduction to the Welsh side (playing in England’s League 2) was a trial by fire.
“That has to be the biggest so far,” Neufville told CanPL.ca. “I went there two days before the Leicester game, I had one training session, and then I just got put straight into the team.”
Those with sharper memories may already have caught on that the game in question was, in fact, the most shocking upset of the 2019 FA Cup. Fewer, though, will remember how big a role the now-CPLer played in that miraculous 2-1 win for Newport.
In his first match at a new club, Neufville played all 90 minutes of their biggest game of the year. It’s a good thing he did, too; after Leicester equalized in the 82nd minute, it was Neufville (then 19 years old) who played hero, finding acres of open field to receive a pass and sending his cross into Marc Albrighton’s arm to win a penalty kick.
Revisiting the moment, Neufville maintains his cross had eyes for Irish striker and teammate Pádraig Amond, rather than just Albrighton’s elbow.
“It was definitely for somebody,” he said, laughing. “I saw the space, my teammates were telling me to stay back and I just ran forward because there was so much space.”
Not every CPLer can boast of having played in the world’s oldest club football competition — by our count, only four others (Nathan Mavila, Tomi Ameobi, David Edgar, and Michael Petrasso) have played in the FA Cup. Neufville would also, certainly, be the youngest to come to Canada with experience in the competition.
Ultimately, the London-born fullback went to Newport in search of consistent playing time, having missed much of the previous season with West Ham’s academy due to injury. Things didn’t quite work out for him in East London and so, at the end of the 2019 season, he found himself out of contract.
Neufville’s attention began to turn towards Canada through conversations with some former Hammers who played in the CPL last season — namely, Cavalry FC’s Nathan Mavila and Jordan Brown, and new Atlético Ottawa teammate Malyk Hamilton.
“I’ve always wanted to play abroad, so when this came up it was a good opportunity for me,” Neufville said. “I heard it was a new club and it was owned by Atlético Madrid, a couple of my friends already played in the league and said it’s a decent league.”
He added, admitting he hasn’t yet seen much CPL action: “I just watched some of the highlights from the season that just went, that was all I could see really. I don’t really know what the league’s like properly yet.”
Things haven’t quite gone to plan in pre-season for Neufville and Atlético Ottawa, who returned to the Canadian capital from Madrid a few weeks ago. This is Neufville’s first time in Canada, and on top of getting used to the time shift, as he asserted, his introduction to this side of the Atlantic has comprised of self-isolation in a shared house with some other Atlético Ottawa players.
Just like he was forced to adapt quickly to playing at Newport, so too has he been thrown rapidly into a very strange situation in a brand new country. He’s had help from his new teammates, though.
“It’s weird because it’s a new team, none of us knew each other,” Neufville said of Ottawa’s brief pre-season. “But to be fair, all of us got on well. Training camp was good, it was sad that we had to come home so early.”
The 20-year-old defender is, ostensibly, the fifth wide player signed so far by Atlético Ottawa, with a strong cast of fullbacks and wingers announced so far. With Hamilton and Ben Fisk similarly inclined to playing near the touchlines, Neufville agreed that he sees the club playing a fast, wide game. He added, though, that their main focus should be playing with the ball on the ground — which suits him to a tee.
“Getting the ball down and playing, not really going long all the time, I think we’ll be a footballing team this season,” he offered. “I’m great defensively, but my main strength is attacking. I like attacking, dribbling with the ball. That’s me.”
Ottawa’s coach Mista will have plenty of time to decide how exactly his side will set up, but in the meantime his players are tasked with staying in shape while stuck at home.
Neufville, who has barely seen an inch of the country he’ll soon be traversing, can’t wait to get back on the football pitch.