The nickname "Mati The Destroyer" seems almost unfitting when you have the chance to chat with him. When speaking to the press Matías Laba mirrors his on-field performances, quiet but incredibly assertive and effective.
He knows that the Whitecaps form may not be the best going into the playoffs, however the win at home against the Houston Dynamo revitalized this team. "The last four games we didn't play our best football but we still achieved the second spot and that was very important for us. Winning the last match of the season at home gave us renewed strength and confidence to go to Portland and get a good result."
Having played well in Portland over the past couple of years and scoring his first MLS goal in a Whitecaps jersey at Providence Park earlier in the summer will help the Argentinian step onto the pitch feeling good about their chances on Sunday afternoon. "I hope I have that possibility (of scoring again). This is going to be a much more important game because it is the playoffs and I hope we can play a good game and get a good result."
Carl Robinson may have players like Mauro Rosales, Pedro Morales or Nicolás Mezquida at his disposal to open the home and away Conference Semi-Finals on Sunday, a fact that may prove to be crucial in the Whitecaps' aspirations to reach the Conference Finals against the winner of the Dallas-Seattle series. "They (Mezquida, Morales and Rosales) are very good players. They contribute creativity to the team and their contributions are crucial when we are attacking. It is great to be able to have them on the team again and it helps with our confidence as well."
The Vancouver Whitecaps are one of the youngest teams in the league. While the majority of his teammates are young in age, Laba is a "young veteran" due to the fact that he is only 23 years old but he has already played over 100 professional matches in his career. Humbly, the young Designated Player places special importance on having players like Mauro Rosales, Pedro Morales and David Ousted in the squad as they "bring a lot of experience not only on the pitch but off it too. When we lose or when a player is struggling with confidence, having experienced players like them helps in feeling very supported. Having the mix between young and experienced players allows us to have both energy and intelligence on the field."
The Whitecaps are not getting complacent with what they have achieved this year, as good as it may be. Laba has confidence in himself and in his teammates that they will be able to put something special together in the 2015 playoffs. "The pressure that we have now is with ourselves. We had a great season, we won the Canadian Championship, we got the second spot in the West, both of these are historic for the club but we know that we can achieve more and we can fight to the very end to get the MLS Cup. We believe we can do it and we will continue to fight to achieve that goal."
What is the difference between this iteration of the Vancouver Whitecaps as opposed to the one that was eliminated in Frisco in the knockout round a year ago? The defensive midfielder attributes the success of this year's squad to keeping the core of the team intact plus the addition of key pieces to bolster those areas that needed improving. "Last year we had trouble seeing the games out, we also needed to face adversity for us to react and start playing our best football. What we did this year was to keep the majority of the team, we all know each other better and the club was able to bring very good players. The team is very united."
What is the key ingredient to creating that atmosphere? Carl Robinson.
"The coach and the coaching staff are the secret to having a great locker room. They keep us united. They give us the talks that we need as a team. As players, knowing each other for a couple of years and making sure that those arriving feel like they have been here for years is the key to creating a family-like atmosphere. Regardless of what happens, we know that we have a great group that wants to remain together next year. "
Breathe easy, Whitecaps fans, when asked if he wants to be a part of this group next year, a huge smile is drawn across the face of "The Destroyer" and a resolute "absolutely" is the answer.