Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen was full of praise for his team’s newest Designated Player on Saturday, and dispelled any thoughts that the injury that pulled Matias Laba off the field late in a 1-0 loss at Colorado is anything serious.
Laba played 87 minutes in an energetic and impressive Major League Soccer debut during which he showed many of the attributes – tenacious defending, excellent athleticism, the ability to win balls in the middle of the pitch and top-class passing in transition – that convinced TFC to pay a team-record transfer fee in order to acquire him.
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“I thought [Matias] was superb today,” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. “It was his first game in the US and it was played at altitude. I thought he and Jeremy [Hall] were fantastic in there. The way his passing was and how he fit in there, he did great. It is exciting for a first performance.
“Obviously it takes time for any new player in this league. Given that was his first performance, he really showed well. Once he gets settled here, gets his family here and gets his life sorted out, and then makes some friends and gets comfortable, I think you will see what type of player we have got. But based on his first performance, I am very excited.”
Laba, 21, fell just short of playing a full 90 minutes in his first match with Toronto FC and was replaced by Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio when he pulled up lame just minutes before the final whistle.
“He just got a bit of cramp. We’ll get him on the treatment table and hopefully he will be fine,” Nelsen said.
With his debut now in the books and the Reds still struggling to earn points, much will be expected of Laba in the coming weeks. Former TFC Designated Player Julian de Guzman often struggled during his years with his hometown club, partially because of the goal-scoring expectations that were placed on him as a holding midfielder. How TFC manage Laba, and the expectations surrounding him, in that position could be one of the team’s biggest storylines this season.
“The only pressure that he should feel is just from within the locker room and from us," Nelsen said. "We know what type of player he is and we know what types of players we are going to add to complement him.”
As for Laba himself, he was generally satisfied with his first performance in MLS, but disappointed with the team’s final result.
“I felt very comfortable. Unfortunately, I debuted with a loss,” Laba said via translator after Saturday’s match. “When you have a debut, you always want to start it off with a win.”