VANCOUVER, B.C. – With the pain seemingly behind him after his time at Toronto FC came to an unexpected end, Matías Laba is ready to turn a new page in his career.
And with less than a week under his belt with the Vancouver Whitecaps – where he landed when Toronto was forced to trade him due to an offseason Designated Player shopping spree brought in Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Gilberto – Laba is already starting to impress.
“It surprised me and hurt me at first,” Laba told MLSsoccer.com after a training session on Wednesday at the University of British Columbia, his Spanish translated by Whitecaps strength and conditioning coach Jon Poli. “But I just hope for the best and that everything will end up well and positive.”
Tenacious and strong in the tackle, the 22-year-old Argentine midfielder is set to start as the more defensive of the “2” in Vancouver's 4-2-3-1 formation. He'll shield the back four alongside Nigel Reo-Coker and expects to play a more conservative role so that his English partner can burst forward when required.
“Nigel has so far been good with me,” Laba said. “I'm very comfortable playing with him. Nigel can play more, and I can be the holding midfielder, the ball winner. ... We haven't had a lot of opportunities to play together yet, but so far so good. Hopefully it will continue positively.”
While there may be an initial comfort level for Laba centrally with Reo-Coker, it will likely be anything but for opposing midfielders, who must deal with the pair's physicality and combative styles.
“He's a good player, a very good footballer,” Reo-Coker told reporters this week after a training session. “You can see he's neat, tight and compact. He reminds me of [Barcelona's Javier] Mascherano. I was fortunate enough to play with Mascherano at West Ham, and they're very similar characters.”
Once an area of weakness for Vancouver, midfield is now looking like an area of great promise with the arrivals of both Laba and fellow Designated Player Pedro Morales within the span of a week.
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“There's such a competitive nature at this club right now,” Reo-Coker said. “There's not a lot of spaces in midfield but there's a lot of midfield players. It's about everyone fighting to earn the right to start. That's what's needed in a healthy team and a team that's going to try and compete to win something.”
As for Laba specifically, he's hoping to make his mark when the Whitecaps kick off their regular season at home Saturday against the New York Red Bulls at BC Place (7:30 pm ET; TSN in Canada, MLS Live in US).
"So far everything's been great," Laba said. "I like the training sessions, and [head coach Carl Robinson] has put a lot of confidence in me and hopefully I'll be able to do what he brought me in for."
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.