Rising star Tabla shouldering attacking burden for Montreal Impact

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The 18-year-old playmaker has stepped up for Mauro Biello's side, scoring in a 1-0 win at D.C. United on Saturday.

WASHINGTON — Catching a glimpse of goal through the RFK Stadium drizzle, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla eyed the opening.

Having danced around one challenge and glided past another, the Montreal Impact playmaker looked up to see what the defense was giving him. D.C. United defender Kofi Opare took a step back. Goalkeeper Travis Worra leaned toward his near post.

Tabla didn't need further invitation.

"I saw the defender — when I cut in front of him he started giving me some space," Tabla said. "I saw the position of the 'keeper, and I said to myself, 'Why not?'"

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Wrongfooted by the low, 19-yard effort, Worra lunged but couldn't connect. The ball nestled inside the far post, giving Tabla his second MLS goal. That strike would eventually be good for three points on the road as the Impact improved to 2-3-4 with a 1-0 win.

It's tough to blame United for not fully comprehending the 18-year-old's talents. Tabla made just his eighth MLS appearance Saturday, and his fourth start. But the Canada youth international shouldn't be flying under the radar much longer.

"He's a perfect example of a young guy taking his opportunity, and the best part is this league is a little bit unaware of his talent," Impact midfielder Daniel Lovitz told Goal. "You pause one second waiting to see what he does and the next he's gone, and the ball's in the back of the net."

Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla Ambroise Oyongo Montreal Impact

It's been a meteoric rise for Tabla, who signed with Montreal in October after one season with the club's USL affiliate. The Ivory Coast native figured to be more of a long-term prospect for a veteran Impact side, who returned all 11 starters after coming within one goal of the MLS Cup final last fall.

But Tabla impressed in preseason, making his MLS debut in the season-opening loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. He has gone on to establish himself as a regular piece of the Impact's attacking rotation, earning the start in central midfield Saturday over captain Patrice Bernier.

While Tabla's technical prowess is readily apparent, the defensive side of his game — and his willingness to improve it — proved key as Montreal earned its first shutout of 2017.

"He scored a fantastic goal, but the fact that he defended and was able to be in the right spots without the ball was fantastic," coach Mauro Biello said. "He did all the little things well without the ball, and that's going to help him because if he does that he's going to create his own space."

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His performance was a welcome development for the Impact, who will be without striker Matteo Mancosu for six to eight weeks because of a thigh injury. For a team that can be overly reliant on the creativity of star winger Ignacio Piatti, Tabla's emergence gives opponents another attacking weapon to worry about.

"That kid's got something," midfielder-forward Dominic Oduro said. "He listens, he learns and he doesn't let it go to his head, which is good. So many kids sometimes, you just praise them way too much and they think they're there. He knows he's not there yet."

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It's a level-headed approach that could prove trickier to maintain once MLS takes notice of Tabla's talent. But his plans remain simple: listen to his coaches, take teammates' advice and tune out the rest of the noise.

"I tell myself I'm young, it's nothing, I can do more," Tabla said. "And I want more."

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