VANCOUVER, BC – You’ll rarely find Matias Laba without a smile on his face.
Before and after games, on the training field, or in the locker room, Laba is always cracking jokes and poking fun at his teammates – even if they don’t always understand him.
This week, he’s had an even bigger smile than usual. Can you blame him? Laba’s native Argentina is set to take on Germany in Sunday’s World Cup final.
The last time Argentina reached the World Cup final was 1990 – Laba was born the following year.
“He’s delighted,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “You can see the smile on his face … he’s letting everyone know that his country is in the World Cup final and rightly so. As happy as he is, I think that if they don’t get the result they want you could see a very unhappy Mati next week.”
Laba, a native of Villa Raffo, Argentina, has a plan to make sure that doesn’t happen. For Argentina’s semifinal tilt with Netherlands, Laba watched the game at his place with his girlfriend, Sebastian Fernandez, and the Uruguayan’s wife. They ate tacos.
And since Argentina came out on top in penalty kicks, tacos are on the menu again Sunday afternoon.
“Same food, same people, same seats,” Laba said in English. “All the same.”
After the first few matches of the World Cup, Laba said he wasn’t convinced Argentina would reach the final. But based on what they’ve done since then, the 22-year-old midfielder is predicting another penalty-kick victory on Sunday.
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero will be the hero again, he said.
Laba, who is second in MLS with 81 tackles heading into this weekend’s action, doesn’t have any relationships with anyone on the current Argentine squad – though he trained with a few of them when he was with the U-20 national team.
It’s going to be difficult to crack the senior team, Laba said, but it’s his “dream” to one day represent them on the world stage.
“He’s in that group of players that might get in that cycle,” Robinson said. “They’ve got world-class players. They’ve got like 30-million pound players on the bench. The pool of players they get to pick from is ridiculous. But Mati is a talented, talented young player. He’s proud of where he comes from and rightly so. And as long as he continues to play well, I’ll keep pushing him to get into that team as well.”
Whether or not that happens, you can bet he’ll still have a smile on his face.
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