TORONTO — Major League Soccer has seen its share of both successes and failures with high-profile South American imports.
David Ferreira, Juan Pablo Ángel and Guillermo Barros Schelotto can be counted among the best players ever to have played in the league. Denílson, Marcelo Gallardo and Jéferson, to name three, are in no danger of joining them.
Toronto FC president and GM Kevin Payne is confident that his latest Designated Player signing, Argentine youngster Matías Laba, has all of the attributes necessary to join that first group and, perhaps more importantly, help form the core of TFC for years to come.
“At other times when we have brought South American players into this league they have tended to be a little bit older and more established. Because Matías still has his career ahead of him, I think he will adapt very quickly,” Payne told reporters Saturday at a press conference in which the former Argentinos Juniors midfielder was introduced to the Toronto media. “The way he plays, the physical attributes he possesses, the quickness with which he plays and the intensity with which he plays, we think he will fit very well with what we are trying to do.”
Payne was quick to point to the pedigree that Laba is bringing with him to Toronto. The 21 year old midfielder will adapt quickly to his new league, according to the TFC president.
“Argentinos Juniors, for those of you that don’t know, are one of the great talent factories in the world. It is arguably the finest youth development academy in Argentina,” Payne explained. I will just name a few players to give you an idea – Diego Maradona, Juan Román Riquelme, [Fernando] Redondo, [Esteban] Cambiasso – they all began their careers as youth players at Argentinos Juniors.
“Matías had a lot of good examples to follow on his way up.”
As for the player himself, Laba spoke highly of the training he received at Argentinos Juniors and provided a hint of the type of player that TFC supporters will see when he makes debut.
“The academy system in Argentinos Juniors is second to none and the players that come out of there are extremely fit and ready to play,” Laba said via translator. “I started in the sixth division with Argentinos Juniors at 17 years old. Prior to that, I was in the academy system with River Plate. One player that I have always followed is [Javier] Mascherano. He is playing more of a central role these days. He is someone that I really look up to and I really enjoy that style of play.”
Given that Argentine greats such as Maradona, Riquelme, Redondo, Cambiasso and Mascherano all headed to Europe when they left Argentina, Laba was asked why he has come to North America rather than following the familiar path that top players from Argentina usually take as their careers progress.
“It was a matter of Toronto being after me for a long time and really showing a lot of interest,” Laba said. “From a player’s perspective, when you see that a club really wants to put you in their team and they do everything possible, that’s what motivated me to come here to this team.”