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Matías Laba out with Toronto? Not so fast, say Nelsen and Bezbatchenko

Jan 14, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT

clint_dempsey_matias_laba AP

When news broke that Michael Bradley would be swapping Rome for Toronto, it was assumed Matías Laba, the Argentine brought on board last year as a Young Designated Player, would be out. In addition to Bradley, the team had signed Jermain Defoe and Gilberto to occupy two other DP slots. Unless Toronto was going to renegotiate Laba’s contract or seriously pay down its cap his with allocation money, the young midfielder would need to find a new home.

But this is where bringing on Tim Bezbatchenko could really pay off. The young TFC general manager is seen as a big of a “capologist” – perhaps the first of his kind in a team’s GM position. Speaking to the league’s web site, the 32-year-old hinted his familiarity with the league’s salary cap rules could help keep Laba in Toronto:

“Everybody knows that I worked at the league office, so I know all the things you can do with the budget and the salary cap. So we’ll be looking at all options in terms of keeping our flexibility with our team and fielding the best team.”

That knowledge could help Ryan Nelsen retain a player he played a part in acquiring, even though former team president and general manager Kevin Payne was seen as the key motivator in Laba’s acquisition. On Tuesday, however, the TFC head coach told MLSSoccer.com “I love Matty,” claiming ‘I brought him in, so we will try and move hell and high water to try and keep the man.”

Laba, only 22 years old, joined Toronto in April from Argentinos Juniors for an estimated $1.5 million transfer fee. He went on to make 17 starts for the Reds, posting one goal. A natural defensive midfielder, Laba staying in Toronto would allow Nelsen to use Bradley further up the field, making better use of the U.S. international’s passing abilities.

Making $200,00 per season, Laba’s wages would normally fit under the salary cap without occupying a Designated Player spot, but the midfielder’s transfer fee likely contributes to a higher cap hit. If Laba stayed a Young Designated Player, that hit would be limited to $200,000. If that distinction has to be given up, the full weight of Laba’s cost will hit Toronto’s cap.

What, exactly, that weight ends up being appears to define the discussion between Toronto and MLS. According to Bezbatchenko, Toronto has to “work through the league” to figure out if they can keep Laba. Given how Nelsen feels about the 22-year-old, any window MLS is willing to offer could force us to revise our Toronto starting XIs.