TORONTO — Money may be part of the reason why Matías Laba is making the move from Argentina to Canada, but it isn't the only one.
The 21-year-old Laba officially signed with Toronto FC on Friday as a Young Designated Player, and many factors played into his decision to leave Argentinos Juniors in his native land and join a Reds team under the guidance of rookie head coach Ryan Nelsen.
"I knew that the club wanted to sign me for a while now and they expressed interest," Laba told FutbolMLS.com from Buenos Aires. "The city, the quality of life and also the financial aspects helped me come to this decision. Now, I have to give it my all to succeed in Toronto and I see this as a chance to showcase my skills to other teams."
TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen highlighted both the quality that Laba is expected to bring and the increased competition for playing time that he will bring to Toronto’s squad.
“We are really happy to get Matias in," Nelsen said. "We’ve been watching him for a longtime now and we know his strengths and his qualities. We see him being a big part of the club for a number of years."
Things may be peachy right now for Laba, but he knows the seriousness of what is being asked of him by Toronto FC. The former Argentina Under-20 national team midfielder was signed with the idea of being a long-term replacement for central midfield ace Torsten Frings, who signed with Toronto as a DP in July 2011 but announced his retirement prior to the start of the current campaign.
"It's an honor to be signed as a replacement for Frings because I know the type of player he is and I saw him play many times on TV," Laba said. "I'm a bit of a different player and someone who is not at the same level as him, because I haven't accomplished all that he has accomplished, but I will do my best to make sure his absence is not felt."
Laba describes himself as a defensive midfielder who can cover a lot of ground and tries to move the ball out of midfield as quickly and cleanly as possible. He is happy for the opportunity that TFC have presented him and is anxious to begin the second phase of his career in a growing league that he believes will challenge him.
"MLS is getting bigger and bigger," said Laba. "There are big-name players here and you have to be at a good level to play here, so hopefully I can adapt fairly quickly."
TFC general manager Kevin Payne told the media that Laba is player who has been on his radar even before arriving in Toronto during the offseason.
"He’s a player that [chief scout] Pat Onstad and I started looking at when we were at still at D.C. United," Payne said. "[Laba] is a great young player. A starting member of the U-20 national team for Argentina – that’s a pretty good pedigree. He’s a real modern midfielder. He covers a lot of ground, a real box-to-box midfielder.”
While terms of the deal to bring Laba to Toronto were not disclosed as per club and league policy, Payne admitted that his club has made a very significant financial investment in order to get the player into a TFC kit.
“I’m not going to comment on the amount. It’s significant though, I’ll say that," Payne said. "I’m sure it’s the biggest transfer fee this club has ever paid. Most of the DP acquisitions in our league have not involved a transfer fee. The whole point of the Young DP rule is recognition that in order to acquire this kind of young talent, we will have to pay acquisition fees.
"Acquiring a guy like Matias Laba is different from acquiring Torsten Frings. It is a significant transfer fee. It’s one of the larger transfer fees in the history of the league.”
In addition to the transfer fee, the manner in which Toronto have brought in Laba differs greatly from the approach that the TFC brass have employed to date with players such as Robert Earnshaw, Hogan Ephraim and John Bostock, who all recently joined the team on either a loan deal or via short term contracts with club options.
“It’s a big investment but we do feel very confident," Payne said. "Obviously his age helps us make that decision. I think a few years ago we never would have had a chance at this player because he probably would have gone to Spain. With the way the Spanish economy is, they’re not in the market the same way they were. So he now becomes a player that we can target.
"Obviously nothing is ever 100 percent, but we’ve watched him a lot. All of our coaches have watched him a lot. Everybody was in agreement on him.”
MLS MATCH PREVIEW: Toronto FC host New York Red Bulls on Saturday
Toronto FC supporters could get their first look at their club’s newest Designated Player as soon as TFC’s Canadian Championship match against the Montreal Impact next Wednesday.
Regardless of when he makes his debut, Payne believes that Reds fan will ultimately like what Laba brings to the Toronto squad.
“He’s a very incisive player and I think the fans are going to like him a lot," Payne said. "He plays with real intensity and conviction, and he suits perfectly the way Ryan wants the team to play in the midfield. We think he’s going to be a really good fit and a guy who’s going to be impactful pretty quickly.”