Toronto FC opened its wallet to pay one of the largest transfer fees in Major League Soccer for young Argentine midfielder Matias Laba.
But the talented 21-year-old shrugs off any lofty expectations with come with his hefty pricetag.
“I come with many expectations and I put a lot of work ethic in myself,” Laba said through an interpreter Saturday morning. “But I don’t feel any type of negative feelings where I’m feeling forced. I’m very confident in what I do.”
Toronto FC formally introduced the 21-year-old Argentinos Juniors product to the media prior to the team’s Major League Soccer match against the visiting New York Red Bulls.
Toronto reportedly paid a transfer fee of somewhere between $1.3 and $1.5-million to obtain the Young Designated Player, who GM and president Kevin Payne first scouted with Pat Onstad when the two worked for D.C. United’s front-office staff.
Onstad, now Toronto’s chief scout, and assistant coach Fran O’Leary made trips to Argentina this season to watch Laba play, and came back sold on the young box-to-box player who can command the midfield, they believe, in a way that has been missing this season.
“They were unanimous in their opinion that Matias was a player who would be outstanding in our league and a mainstay of our club for years to come,” Payne said.
Laba, who also represented Argentina at the 2011 FIFA under-20 World Cup in Colombia, said the fact Toronto pursued him so vigorously was part of what lured him away from his home country.
“From a players perspective, when we see that another team is really wanting to put you in the team and do everything possible, that’s what motivates me to come here to this team,” Laba said.
As a so-called Young Designated Player between the age of 21 and 23, only $200,000 of Labba’s salary counts against the team’s salary cap. There is a reduced salary cost for DPs signed in mid-season.
Payne believes the team’s newest addition, who came up through an Argentinos Juniors academy program that produced stars such as Diego Maradona, will be able to handle the expectations that come with being a DP.
“I think Matias is a very confident young man and a very confident player and I don’t think it will affect him at all that he had a larger than normal transfer fee associated with him,” Payne said. “Pressure on us I suppose, but we’re pretty confident that we made a good choice here.”
Laba is expected to make his Toronto debut on Wednesday versus the Impact in the second game of the Canadian championship series.
For now, Laba is getting acquainted with his teammates. The Spanish-speaking player said he’s keen to learn English, and Payne said he’ll be enrolled in an English program in Toronto.
Because of his age — Laba just turned 21 in late-December — as well as his speed and aggression on the pitch, Payne believes he’ll be able to adjust quickly to the MLS game.
“I personally have always liked players from Argentina,” the GM said. “Part of the reason for that is they’re trained very well in the youth development system there, in all of the things that they have to encounter as professionals, and they tend to travel well because they’ve been prepared.”