Can the 'Caps contain Kaká?

Matias Laba

VANCOUVER, BC – Alleged water bottle tampering, mass brawls, and breathtaking soccer.

Throw in the endless debate about who’s the best player of all time, Maradona or Pelé, and you have one of the greatest rivalries international soccer – maybe even professional sport – has ever seen.

That, of course, would be the Battle of the South Americans: Argentina vs. Brazil.

Whitecaps FC midfielder Matias Laba, who hails from Argentina, knows all about it. And that’s part of the reason why he’s had Saturday’s match against Orlando City SC (4:30 p.m. PT kickoff – TSN 1 and TSN 1410) circled in his calendar.

One of Laba’s key tasks on Saturday will be shutting down Orlando midfielder Kaká, a former AC Milan and Real Madrid star who is regarded as one of the best players of his generation.

Winning the Ballon d’Or and being named FIFA World Player of the Year will do that.

Did we mention he’s Brazilian?

“It’s an honour to play against Kaká,” Laba told whitecapsfc.com. “I never thought that I’d play against him but now it might happen on Saturday. He’s a very good player.”

Laba would know.

He said he remembers “too many goals” Kaká has scored. Many of them came against Argentina, including one where he basically ran the length of the pitch and scored in the dying stages. 

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zyJ_1m2HCK0?rel=0"></a>
<b>Kaka&#39;s goal against Argentina in 2006</b>

“I was not happy because he scored against Argentina,” Laba said, “but it was an incredible goal.”

Laba called the rivalry between Argentina and Brazil “crazy.” Every game between the two teams is like a final, he said. Growing up in Argentina, he said it’s every young player’s dream to one day play in a World Cup and beat Brazil.

So what do people in Argentina think of Kaká?

Is there a little bit of a dislike there?

“No, no,” he said. “The people there like good players. Maybe we’re not fans of Kaká but we’re fans of good players.”

Since Kaká has been playing centrally as an attacking midfielder, Laba knows that he’ll have to play a big part in trying to contain him. But as Whitecaps FC defender Steven Beitashour said this week, it’s going to need to be a collaborative effort.

“He’s definitely a great player – not a good player, a great player,” Beitashour said of Kaká. “He drives that team. We have two really good holding mids and the guys around him will try to affect him as much as they can. But it’s one of those things where you can’t stop him, you just try to slow him down.”

After the game, Laba said he’d like to exchange jerseys with Kaká. He’s going to have some competition, though, because Nicolas Mezquida is in the same boat.

Mezquida, who hails from Uruguay, said this week that Kaká was his favourite player growing up.

Clearly, he’s not Argentinian. 


There are a few different types of attacking midfielders.

There are those who play deeper, closer to the back line to get more involved in a team’s build-up. Think Pedro Morales (though last weekend against Chicago he seemed to get forward a little more than we’ve seen in the past).

And there are those who play almost as a second striker to provide more of a goal-scoring threat. Toronto FC midfielder Sebastian Giovinco, who the ‘Caps played against on opening day, is one example of that type of player. Kaká is another.

That was especially true in Orlando’s opening-day draw with New York City FC, when 66 per cent of Kaká’s on-ball actions came in the final third. That percentage dropped to 48 per cent in last weekend’s win over Houston (potentially just a product of the entire team sitting a bit deeper on the road), but that’s still high for midfield players.

Can the 'Caps contain Kaká? -

By comparison, the percentage of on-ball actions in the final third for Morales and Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales were below 30 per cent last weekend. And these are two of the top attacking midfielders in MLS we’re talking about it.

They’re just different types of players.

Kaká is clearly a player that likes to get forward. He likes to shoot, too. Only one midfielder has more shots than he does two weeks into the season and that’s Giovinco.

One of Kaká’s biggest weapons is his ability to create from set pieces (that's how he scored his first and only MLS goal thus far), so not picking up any unnecessary fouls around the box will be key.

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