WASHINGTON—When Ballou Jean-Yves’ Tabla turned Jared Jeffrey, avoided Luciano Acosta’s challenge and then darted toward the penalty arc in the 13th minute, he showed the unpredictability necessary to succeed as a No. 10 in MLS.
So much so, in fact, that even his attacking Montreal Impact teammates were surprised.
“I thought he was going to slip [a pass to] one of us,” said forward Dominic Oduro. “But he saw that ambition and he took it.”
Tabla continued on inside the arc and fired a low, right-footed finish beyond Travis Worra for his second professional goal. That stylish strike was all Montreal needed to secure a 1-0 road victory over D.C. United on Saturday evening.
“I was in a position that I could pass to [Ignacio Piatti] or Dom,” Tabla said. “But I saw the defender, when I cut in front of him he started giving me some space. And I saw the position of the ‘keeper. And I thought to myself, 'Why not to shoot?'”
In Tabla’s first start in the central midfield position of coach Mauro Biello’s 4-2-3-1 scheme, the decision to shoot and not pass was one in a string of difference-making plays for the prodigious rookie.
“He scored a fantastic goal, but the fact that he defended and was able to be in the right spots without the ball was fantastic,” Biello said. “It’s not easy to be a No. 10 in this league as a Homegrown [Player], and he’s showing his qualities.”
Tabla's goal began Montreal’s most dominant stretch of the evening, one that left D.C. United coach Ben Olsen so mad that he gave his own squad an old-fashioned verbal dressing down at halftime.
Now with four MLS starts under his belt, Tabla said he feels more comfortable with what Biello and his team are asking of him, and that he’s only scratched the surface of his capabilities.
“I tell myself, 'I’m a [youngster]. It’s nothing. I can do more,'" said Tabla. "If I stay [content with] this success, I’ll never grow. So I want more.”
Already, though, he may have other MLS defenses scrambling to rethink their tactics.
“We’ve seen him once in a preseason game and on film, but that was the first time we’ve seen him,” said D.C. defender Bobby Boswell. “And he kind of pulls off a play on some guys that they wish they could have back.”