It is once again that time of year. Tom Bogert, and several others, are reporting that the Whitecaps are close to signing Uruguayan defender Mathias Laborda. He seems fine! This is not necessarily the most exciting signing of all time but Laborda brings a certain skillset that can be very useful.
Laborda (23) has played for Uruguayan giants Nacional for his entire career. He has over 100 professional appearances, split about 75/25 between centre-back and right-back. He has played for Uruguay 16 times at various youth levels but is yet to make a senior appearance.
Data and Style of Play
Laborda is basically the human equivalent of the bumpers on a pinball machine. All of the numbers around his 1v1 defending are really strong. Wyscout credits him with winning 73.1% of his defensive duels in 2022 (all competitions). This is very high-Virgil Van Dijk-level stuff (credited with 73.9% throughout his time in the premier league). Despite only being 5’11, his aerial duel win rate is above average at 61.4%. During some periods he has even made it into the low 70s, which is basically Kendall Waston levels. Also of note, his 0.08 xG/90 is on the high side for a centre-back so he has something to offer from set pieces as well.
Now, you might be thinking “great, another stats demon courtesy of Nikos and the gang.” But there are some drawbacks. Laborda is not the most dynamic player with the ball at his feet. He was in the 50th percentile for progressive passes in Uruguay. He had very few dribbles or progressive runs so he’s not carrying the ball very much either. This is why he did not turn up in my searches for the “sensible transfers” article (that and he is not left-footed). I had assumed the ‘Caps would be after a clone of Tristan Blackmon but left-footed, but it seems that isn’t the case. Maybe this is what they wanted all along or maybe they just wanted the best Centre-back they could get on a free transfer and weren’t too bothered about his style. The Whitecaps do have a fair amount of cap space but because so much of their TAM is tied up the ways they can fill their open space are not that flexible. Basically, it wouldn’t be possible to fill all four of their open senior spots with players you have to pay a transfer fee for. I suspect the full picture will become clearer in the coming weeks. You can see a radar I built using his Wyscout data from the 2022 season (all competitions)
Initially, I guessed that Laborda might signal another player going out the door. He is, after all, remarkably similar in profile to Javain Brown. But reporting out of South America indicates that the reason Laborda has chosen Vancouver over other suiters is that teams in South America are not willing to match the wages the ‘Caps are offering. Given that Brown hardly makes anything, the salary cap machinations probably wouldn’t line up. So I think what’s more likely is the Whitecaps see Laborda as a really good version of Jake Nerwinski. Vanni Sartini mentioned that he liked having someone on the right side of the defence who could free up Julian Gressel to get forward. Laborda certainly seems like he could do that effectively.
This more or less makes Vancouver two deep at each of their centre-back positions. You have aggressive right-sided defenders in Brown and Laborda. More passive covering players in the middle with Veselinovic and Yao. On the left, you have a centre-back with more freedom to bring the ball out of the back in Triston Blackmon and Daniel Krutzen (a similar type of guy) doing some training with WFC2. Technically Matteo Campagna is also that sort of guy but I don’t think he’s ready for MLS yet.
Ultimately Laborda is unlikely to be the difference between success and failure for the Whitecaps. But he seems like a reasonably good player who plays a position the Whitecaps could use another reasonably good player in. He, therefore, receives the official Caleb Wilkins seal of “this seems fine.” Here his is the obligatory Youtube highlights: