Okay, so I don't even know if the New England Revolution even want Matias Laba. They've brough it some overseas talent during the offseason but have yet to make a significant signing and I'm sure are very happy with the roster they have especially after the SuperDraft. But frankly, they probably should be interested in Laba, because Toronto FC's young midfielder is rumored to be available and because they can probably get him on the cheap. At least for one year anyway.
Why? Because TFC is looking to loan out their young, international designated player for the 2014 season and it just so happens that New England has open international and DP spots on their roster. But I am not an expert on anything Toronto FC, expect jealousy for their recent spending habits, so I went SB Nation's Toronto FC blog Waking The Red and talked with David Rowaan (@soccercanada) on the Laba/TFC situation. And this may come as a shock to many of you, but TFC have too many DPs on their roster right now and the best way to solve this is to loan out Laba for 2014.
"The team is actively shopping Laba around MLS to look for a place for him to play in 2014 but there is no real word yet about what teams are interested in him," Rowaan said via email. "The ideal scenario would be for the player to go out on a season long loan and then return to Toronto FC for 2015 when the club can sign him to a new contract that would no longer include his transfer fee. That would allow him to come in below the DP level in terms of cap hit and then he could once again fit on the club's roster."
I believe that Laba's transfer fee, not his salary, puts him the DP category (similar to Jerry Bengston) and according to David, it seems his initial contract with TFC will expire at the end of 2014. So TFC would like to be able to retain his rights during the upcoming season but need to be roster compliant by March 1. So TFC have asked around and rookie head coach for the Columbus Crew, Gregg Berhalter, spilled the beans on that effort saying that the Crew had been offered Laba in some capacity but declined.
So what about other options for Toronto? And what would it cost other MLS' clubs?
"If they do manage to loan him out I would assume the price would be fairly modest as any team taking him on would not be looking to give up a lot of assets to borrow a player for a single season even if he is of such high quality," Rowaan says. "If they end up trading him I think the price would be substantially higher as the team would then be looking to potentially get at least one starting caliber player in return."
I don't see the Revs having a lot of tradable assets if they wanted to fully acquire Laba's rights. I don't see the Revs parting ways with anyone in the starting lineup or any of the young guys like Caldwell, Steve Neumann or Patrick Mullins. But in the interest of science, where does Toronto need the most help?
"The areas where they would most likely want to strengthen in such a deal would be replacing Laba in the middle of the park and potentially adding depth at CB or on the left wing," explains Rowaan. "The Revs might have some players who could fit the bill for Toronto but it is hard to see them parting with someone good enough to start in TFC's current lineup."
Well I can rule out left wing immediately because the Revs are looking to fill that spot themselves with Saer Sene recovering from his broken ankle. And as far as center backs go, I think the Revs are happy with how they have and I don't see the Revs making this happen so let's rule out the trade and talk about the loan possibilities.
While the MLS intra-loan system is very new, the Colorado Rapids have loaned Tony Cascio to the Houston Dynamo for the 2014 season, the first such loan in MLS. The loan carries a provision that states that Cascio can't feature against the Rapids in any competition but is eligible for all competitions for Houston otherwise and I would expect a similar agreement between TFC and whomever they loan Laba out to. And it should be a fairly cheap too, even by New England standards as David Rowaan explains.
"If the Revs, or any MLS team for that matter, are looking to take Laba on loan I don't expect the cost to be that high to them. They would essentially be doing TFC a favor by taking him for the season while allowing the club to retain Laba's rights. With TFC dealing from a position of weakness in this case I would expect them to eat most of the financial cost of Laba's current deal should he go out on loan. That would essentially just leave the Revs on the hook for his cap hit which the league pays anyhow so that should not be a real obstacle. Money outside of the cap is something that TFC has plenty of so covering most of the cost would not be an issue for."
I couldn't agree more with David's analysis there, because he's right. New England, or anyone for that matter, would be doing such a favor for Toronto that I would make the argument that TFC covering Laba's salary entirely is not out of the question and I'd almost argue that TFC should be willing to compensate a team for use of their international spot as well. MLS teams regularly trade for international roster slots with each other, so why not allocation money from TFC to cover the costs of the spot? Perhaps that's a little steep, but again, Toronto have dug themselves into a hole and theoretically, no one has in MLS has to help dig them out.
But why would the Revs be interesting in acquiring Laba on loan? And what would that mean for the Revs current midfielders? Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen are likely going to be fixtures in the starting lineup as center midfielders in the Jay Heaps' preferred 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 formation. But that pesky defensive midfield spot was eventually filled by Scott Caldwell after winning the job from Kalifa Cisse and Clyde Simms (who officially retired yesterday and announced he has a severe kidney disease, all the best Clyde). But Caldwell lost his starting spot to Andy Dorman during the crunch time of the playoff race and playoff series against Sporting Kansas City last year, and new additions like Paolo DelPiccolo and SuperDraft pick Alec Sundly are still unproven at the MLS level.
Here's a full scouting report on Matias Laba from David Rowaan:
"Laba is not big, strong, or quick for a defensive midfielder but the way that he plays the game he does not need to be any of those things. He is great at being in the right place to either intercept passes or limit options. He was very good at covering defenders and locking down the middle of the park for TFC last season. His tackling is the most impressive part of his game though as he has a knack for stripping the ball off players without having to body them off the ball or go to ground to take it off them. He has that knack for knowing when to step in to strip the ball at just the right moment and it made him one of the top tacklers in MLS last season. Once he has the ball he is talented at picking out his teammates and managed to have a fairly high passing percentage on a team that struggled to string passes together last season. His passing was more impressive given the fact that it was not built on safe, short passes but included a lot of long balls that launched TFC on to the attack."
Okay, so to summarize, Laba does two things better than Scott Caldwell right now in my opinoin: he can tackle and he's more aggressive going forward. This isn't about size or that "enforcer" from the #6 spot that many of us have speculated the Revs getting, both Caldwell and Laba are similar in stature. But Caldwell isn't a natural ball winner defensively and arguably struggled mightily in that aspect late in the 2013 season as he plateaued late in his rookie season among other areas. Also, despite his defensive struggles, I was begging to see Caldwell go forward more often at any point last year but he opted, or was instructed, to play it safe and more of a point guard from the holding midfield spot. And while Caldwell's passing was beneficial to the Revs as far as possession goes, he wasn't aggressive enough when he needed to be going forward and that cost him his starting spot late in the year. Laba is more willing to go forward and with wingers like Diego Fagundez, Sene and newcomers Mullins and Neumann manning the flanks, there will be opportunity for him to go over the top and have a positive impact in the attack.
Again, I have no idea if the Revs are even interested in making this deal. They've seen more of Scott Caldwell in the last few months and into preseason than I have and perhaps like his development to the point where they're comfortable in not bringing in another player. And that's fine. But the Revs, or anyone with an available international and DP roster spot, have a chance to bring on a pretty good young player for basically nothing. And that is a situation that, at the very least, has to be explored in detail.
And in an offseason where the Revs have somehow managed to piss off the reigning league defender of the year (and their captain) nor have they replaced Juan Agudelo with a signing (yet), perhaps making a bit of splash, even a one-year loan, could go a long way with their fans.