VANCOUVER, BC – For the first time since suffering a season-ending torn ACL back in August, Matias Laba was in the house on Wednesday night at BC Place.
And while he didn’t have a part to play on the pitch, he did have something to say off it.
Prior to the match, Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson delivered his team talk in the locker room as he always does. But this time, he had some help.
Towards the end of his speech, Robinson asked Laba to stand up. Then, with Laba by his side, Robinson said: “We’ve all been together from the first preseason day and we make sure this is not going to be our last day today,” before asking Laba to say a few words of his own.
The whole team talk was captured by MLS on TSN’s Virtual Reality Experience, powered by Bell.
“The sacrifices [we’ve made] from the whole year were to be here,” Laba told the group. “Today is a final. Enjoy the game. Play smart. All together, for these fans, for our family. And if everyone is together, I know we will win.”
That, they did – in convincing fashion.
Whitecaps FC cruised to an entertaining 5-0 victory over San Jose Earthquakes, the club’s first-ever playoff victory in the MLS era. The ‘Caps got contributions from across the park.
Fredy Montero got things started with an all-important first goal. Cristian Techera scored a world-class free kick and had an assist to boot. Kendall Waston rose to the occasion again, recording a goal and an assist himself. Nicolas Mezquida and Brek Shea were spark plugs off the bench, contributing a combined two goals and two assists. Christian Bolanos was a calming presence in midfield. Marcel de Jong had himself in man-of-the-match contention. And while he wasn’t busy, Stefan Marinovic made a spectacular save on an early Quakes free kick.
Laba’s contributions weren’t as tangible, but it was clear what the Argentine’s presence meant to everyone in the locker room.
“That was huge,” said Whitecaps FC defender Jake Nerwinski. “We didn’t know that he was going to come. We walked in and we see him, he’s got that smile on. He just said that it’s about family, that’s what we’re doing. We’re together and he’s going to be here for us.”
At the request of Robinson, Laba flew into Vancouver earlier in the afternoon. He had been rehabbing in his native Argentina since undergoing surgery in August. But Robinson wanted him to be involved on Wednesday – both for Laba’s sake and for the team’s.
“Mati has been a massive part of this football club,” Robinson said. “He actually did my team talk today, which was great. The boys love him to bits. I love him to bits. And obviously it worked. So he might have to stay a few weeks longer.”
Whitecaps FC open the two-leg Western Conference Semifinals vs. Seattle Sounders FC this Sunday at BC Place (5:30 p.m. PT kickoff – tickets on sale now), before heading to CenturyLink Field for the decisive second leg next Thursday, November 2.