TORONTO — With Toronto FC now unbeaten in three games and having conceded only one goal during that stretch, head coach Ryan Nelsen has been quick to credit his entire squad for the team's recent success. But the glue holding the group together may already be Young Designated Player Matías Laba.
Laba scored his first MLS goal on Sunday in TFC's 1-0 win over the New England Revolution and was the unquestioned Man of the Match in a game in which his pressing and fine defensive play in the midfield was just as key as his goal with respect to Toronto coming away with all three points.
With 14 MLS appearances now under his belt, the 21-year-old Argentine is now starting to flex his offensive muscles and he has shown a genuine propensity to be a game changing force in all areas of the pitch.
TFC president and general manager Kevin Payne contended earlier this season that fans likely would not see the best of his first marquee signing until the club surrounded him with the right players. But Laba's recent form has illustrated clearly that the Argentinos Juniors product is a truly multidimensional player, with both offensive skills in addition to an ability to influence the outcome of matches via high quality defensive play.
"I am a player that tries to play both offensively and defensively, but only when there is an opportunity to go forward," Laba told MLSsoccer.com via translator. "I enjoy going forward and playing defensively."
While he was full of praise for the manner in which Laba scored his first MLS goal, Nelsen was equally quick to compliment the defensive play of his young DP.
"Matías is naturally a very good reader of the game and he steps up extremely well and flows on with his pressure," Nelsen said. "He is relentless and when he pressures that hard it is very difficult for the opposition to keep the ball. You have to be a very special player to be able to handle his type of pressure."
According to TFC assistant coach Jim Brennan, Laba is only going to get better and better as he becomes more accustomed to his new league and new club.
"You haven't seen the best of Laba yet," Brennan said. "It is always hard when you come to a new country and you don't speak the language. You are also trying to settle in with a new team and to find your feet in a new formation. The way he has handled himself so far has been great to see. I think eventually Laba will be one of the top players in this league."
In many ways, the biggest adjustments that the talented young midfielder has had to make since leaving the Argentine Primera División have been off the pitch rather than on it, with learning a new language and adjusting to the rigors of travel in the MLS being two variables that he is still getting used to.
"It is tough for a young man from Argentina who is away from his family and all that," Nelsen added. "The travel that we do is something that he has never experienced before in Argentina, such as flying for five-and-a-half hours across the country to play two games and then flying another five and a half hours back to Toronto."
Added Laba: [The effects of the travel] are something I can definitely feel in my legs, but there are no excuses," Laba stated. "I am studying English very hard but also finding it difficult."
While the team has experienced plenty of bumps in the road as the TFC brass has endeavored to rebuild the squad on the fly this season, the acquisition of Laba and his play to date have been major positives for the team to build on as Toronto now look ahead to continuing to improve their results in the second half of the MLS calendar.
If Laba, who played both the holding midfielder and central attacking midfielder positions in Argentina, can consistently use his abilities to improve Toronto's attack going forward in the coming months, it could provide something of a missing link for a team that has competed well but fallen short of results on a number of occasions.
Asked what he hopes to achieve in the second half of TFC's 2013 campaign, the former Argentina U-20 International did not mention goals or assists.
"I would love for our results to not be so close and for them to go in our favor," Laba said.