It was in February that word first came out of TFC being about to sign a young DP from Argentina (seriously, this one's been a long saga) and early March when Kristian Jack revealed the frankly magnificent name of Maximiliano Urruti (given I can't really judge him as a player, not being able to use his name is the saddest bit about him not coming) as being that player.
Nothing happened for a while until early April when it came out via Neil Davidson that there were actually going to be two Argentinians, Urruti and a mystery midfielder to be named later, both of whom were to be expected by the end of April. A few days later and Kurt Larson reported that mystery midfielder was Matías Laba, a 21 year old defensive midfielder with plenty of appearances at club level and caps with Argentina's youth teams. The next day, a report from Argentina suggested a transfer fee of $1.5m, with a solid date mentioned, April 29th.
Thursday brought further confirmation, with Argentinos Jr announcing the sale on their website, for $1.35m, with Laba set to get an overnight flight to Toronto
Now it's finally official, a press release sent out by Toronto FC this morning. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed as per club and league policy, though the young DP part was confirmed, so he'll count for $200,000 per season to the salary cap, should be interesting to see what he's listed at when the Union releases the salary numbers.
Here's Kevin Payne on the signing - "Matías Laba is one of the top young talents in Argentina and we are delighted to have him join Toronto FC," He is a modern central midfielder and we expect him to be a mainstay of our team for years to come."
And here's Ryan Nelsen - "We are really excited to have Matias join us. He is an exciting and energetic young player that's captained his side and shown real leadership qualities. He has a great intensity to his play that is infectious to watch and will be a great addition to the club."
This would normally be the point in the template for this sort of article where we link to an awesome highlights video with all sorts of spectacular goals, and some typically cheesy dance music. Alas there isn't really much of that, search for him at youtube and you get more interviews than highlights. There is this though, what he describes in one of the aforementioned videos as his favourite goal.
There's not much competition to be honest. He's very much a defensive midfielder so don't be looking for gaudy stats to be justifying the big salary/transfer fee and DP tag, hopefully he won't face the same issues as Julian de Guzman did with supporters who expected more. He'll have more of an effect at the defensive end of things, presumably providing an effective shield in front of the Centre Backs, and if he can bring some needed composure and technical ability to help TFC keep control of games when injury time rolls around, that'd be worth the money right there.
We know where he'll play for TFC, right in front of the defence, but exactly how TFC fits around him should be interesting. Does Ryan Nelsen revert to the 2 DM formation we saw earlier in the season, and if so who would be the 2nd? A few weeks ago, Terry F Dunfield would have been the obvious answer, but Nelsen's shown that if you play well, you keep your spot and Jeremy Hall's looked good in these last few games since Dunfield was injured. Another option of course would to go with the same formation we've seen recently, with just the one defensive midfielder, the extra quality allowing a more attacking lineup that can still keep things relatively solid when it counts.
It's a gamble of course, he's not at the level where this is an obvious success, and when you add in the challenges of adapting to a new league and new country with an unfamiliar language, there's all sorts of potential for difficulties. I'd say it's well worth the risk though, a regular starter at age 21 and Argentina U20 international sounds very promising and just the sort of player the changes to the DP rule were meant to encourage. Rather than an aging star looking for one last challenge, Laba is a talented young player still on the upswing of his career, presumably hungry to improve and earn the big contracts that could be in his future. This is the sort of signing that if it works out, can mean a player to be built around for years, or if things go very well and he moves on to a bigger club bring in a transfer fee.
So far, we've seen Kevin Payne create a lot of cap room by shedding contracts, and we've seen him bring in some players on loan, maybe they'll work, maybe they won't, but if not, there's not too much harm done. This is the first player move that is supposed to be a long term stone in the foundation that Ryan Nelsen talks about, that the team can build around. This is a signing it'll be more than fair to judge Payne on, how well Laba plays should have a big say in how well this latest incarnation of TFC works out.
Anyway, like I said, there's not much in the way of exciting highlights, but if you want to watch 14 minutes of good solid defending, intercepting, tackling and all that, enjoy.