TFC sends Laba on loan to Whitecaps

Toronto FC 's Matias Laba tackles Seattle Sounders' Clint Dempsey. (Chris Young/CP)

In the end, Matias Laba fell victim to the number’s game.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have acquired the Argentine midfielder on loan from Toronto FC, sources confirmed to Sportsnet on Tuesday evening.

Toronto FC declined to comment when reached by Sportsnet seeking confirmation, but the deal is expected to be announced on Wednesday by the Major League Soccer club. News of the loan deal was first reported by the Province newspaper in Vancouver.

Laba, 22, was one of the few bright spots for TFC in 2013, joining the Reds as a designated player last April from Argentinos Juniors in Argentina’s first division. Laba scored one goal in 16 league appearances, and won praise for his poised and mature play in anchoring Toronto’s midfield.

But the team was forced to move the Argentine elsewhere when it signed three new DPs this off-season: Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto. MLS teams are only allowed three DPs on their roster, which meant Laba was the odd man out.

TFC coach Ryan Nelsen said after signing Defoe and Bradley that the club would “move hell and high water” to keep Laba, a sentiment echoed by general manager Tim Bezbatchenko. The team looked at several possibilities, but in the end, it had to get the Argentine off its books by March 1 in order to be roster compliant ahead of the start of the 2014 MLS regular season.

Bezbatchenko said he recently sat down with Laba to discuss his future at the club and what his preference would be if he had to leave.

MLS has had an intraleague loan rule in place since 2013, but only players 24 years of age or younger are eligible. All loans run through the end of the MLS season, and the player reverts to his original club only after MLS Cup.

In Laba, the Whitecaps are getting one of the league’s brightest prospects, a player who will add quality and depth to its midfield.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much playing time he’ll get under new coach Carl Robinson, who has several players vying for the defensive midfield role, including English veteran Nigel Reo-Coker and Ghanaian Gershon Koffie, two of the team’s top players.

Besides being a tough tackler, Laba also has an offensive upside, possessing neat passing skills and the ability to link the defence and attack.

“He’s an all-around midfielder. He’s very tenacious defensively and covers a tremendous amount of ground. He’s terrific closing on the ball but then when he gets the ball he’s an outstanding passer,” former TFC GM Kevin Payne said of Laba.

The Whitecaps open the season on March 8 when they host the New York Red Bulls.

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