How will the acquisition of Matias Laba shake up the Vancouver Whitecaps midfield?
After an uncertain few weeks, Matías Laba finally found a new home in Vancouver on Wednesday night. And his arrival clearly fills a position of need for the 'Caps.
Laba will most likely slot next to Nigel Reo-Coker in one of the two deep midfielder spots in manager Carl Robinson’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Consider Laba the 2014 replacement for Martin Rennie's trusted No. 6 Jun Marques Davidson (24 starts in 2013) and he represents a huge upgrade at the position because unlike Davidson, Laba can actually stop the opposition's attack.
The Argentine averaged five tackles per 90 last season for Toronto FC, nearly a full tackle more than any other player in the league. If you combine tackles, interceptions, and recoveries, Laba is one of the best midfielders in the league when it comes to winning the ball and jumpstarting the attack. Here are the top five players in that category last year:
Where was Davidson on this list? All the way at No. 44 with 11.84 tackles, interceptions, and recoveries per 90. Could some of Laba’s numbers have been a product of a struggling TFC side last year? Sure, but the vast majority of midfielders in the Top 10 played for playoff teams, inlcuding Ozzie Alonso (Seattle Sounders) at No. 1.
What should excite 'Caps fans even more is that Laba's defense-first tendencies should prove an ideal complement for Reo-Coker, a true box-to-box No. 8 midfielder who has a penchant to join the attack (31 percent of his passes in 2013 came in the final third). Laba's arrival should free up Reo-Coker even more for those attacking forays.
It's not all roses, however. What does Laba's acquisition mean for a player like 22-year-old Gershon Koffie? The Ghanaian has been a regular contributor for the Whitecaps since their inception in MLS and has seen plenty of playing time this preseason under Robinson.
But what's more interesting is that Koffie is practically a mirror image of Laba on the field: He came in 10th in the chart above (14.08 tackles, interceptions, and recoveries per 90) and has practically the same passing volume and accuracy stats as Laba.
Will Laba and Koffie end on the field together alongside Reo-Coker? Will one of them play a slightly different position? Or will Koffie be deemed surplus to requirements?
The trade for Laba may answer some questions in Vancouver’s midfield, but not without asking a few new ones.