PORTLAND, Ore. — One of the slowest developing sagas of the offseason has suddenly become a whirlwind for newly minted Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Matias Laba.
Speaking to reporters just hours after joining the team in Portland, Ore. following Wednesday’s trade with Toronto FC, Laba seemed no worse for wear after over a month of uncertainty over his future with the Reds.
“I intended to stay in MLS and I’m extremely happy Vancouver wanted me,” Laba, who joined his team for the capper of the Rose City Invitational, said. “I spoke with the coach right when I arrived and everyone has received me very well. I’m excited to show what I’ve got on the field.”
The 22-year-old originally joined TFC in April 2013 as a young Designated Player, and scored one goal over 16 appearances, all of them starts. But after the Reds acquired three DPs – Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Brazilian forward Gilberto – in the offseason, the club was forced to part ways with Laba in order to comply with roster rules.
Toronto did make a play to keep Laba, but unable to remove the DP tag, they were forced to shop him around the league.
“At first, [TFC] told me that I’d have the opportunity to stay, though there was a small possibility,” Laba recalled. “But unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
And though in good spirits upon his arrival in the Rose City, Laba did admit that experience of being uprooted so quickly after coming to Canada was a trying one.
“It was difficult until now in that I didn’t know where I was going to play and my situation wasn’t resolved, but then Vancouver came along and now I’m very happy,” he said.
Laba has joined a new team with rookie head coach Carl Robinson aiming to remake a midfield corps that has struggled to impress over the past couple years. But Robinson isn’t about to ask Laba to do anything radically different from his time in Toronto.
In fact, it is exactly the attributes Laba showed in Red that have Robinson buzzing.
“He’s different to what we’ve got. He’s tough, he covers a lot of ground, defensively minded, but he does the not-so-pretty work,” the coach explained on Friday. “His interception ratio is fantastic, he tackles and he’s a link player. I think it’s important if you’re going to play in that area of the field in modern-day football that you are a link player and he’s certainly got that attribute.”
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Whitecaps fans should be able to see Laba – who says he’s fit and has been training for the whole offseason, save for the past week – in action right away, as Robinson says he expects to give the player minutes in the Whitecaps’ final match of the preseason, against the Portland Timbers on Saturday evening (8 pm ET, watch LIVE on WhitecapsFC.com, Timbers.com).
Laba is slated to fit in as a second defensive midfielder alongside English Premier League veteran Nigel Reo-Coker in Robinson’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and the coach is hopeful that alongside a more advanced playmaking type the team has been looking at signing – possibly Chilean international Pedro Morales – fans will see a vastly improved standard of play in the middle of the park.
“It’s going to look totally different,” Robinson said. “Different players bring different attributes and I think it’s important that midfield is the engine room of the team and I think games are won and lost in those areas.
“I know I’m sort of bringing in new players in those areas, but the players already here have got fantastic qualities. It’s important that we’ve added to the group and we’ve done that and I hope it is really successful.”