Ebene Magazine – Can Carlos Vela, LAFC, regain their pre-pandemic mojo?

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When Carlos Vela steps onto a field, the 32-year-old Los Angeles Football Club captain has two things on his mind: enjoying himself and finding ways to create special moments that fans will never forget.

Vela’s next chance to add to his list of memorable highlights is the start of LAFC’s fourth season on Saturday afternoon when Major League Soccer newcomer Austin FC visits the Banc of California Stadium.

For the second year in a row, LAFC competes against an MLS expansion team that is making its debut.

LAFC beat Inter Miami FC 1-0 last year after Vela left class on the left foot after the Mexican striker walked through the visiting defense and chipped the goalkeeper from outside the box just before half-time.

« The master of all polls, » said ESPN play-by-play announcer Jon Champion after the striker’s nifty end.

Vela has dominated MLS since LAFC’s year of expansion in 2018. The club’s first commitment delighted fans, media, other players and coaches with its silky game and consistently brilliant scoring chances.

The game winner against Miami was Vela’s 22nd goal in his last 22 regular season home games after a goalless draw with the Chicago Fire in 2019.

Given the strength of LAFC’s second incredible season, expectations for Vela and the club could not have been higher ahead of the Miami game.

The MLS season was interrupted after the second week. When competition resumed with a midsummer tournament in Florida, Vela decided to stay in Los Angeles to support his pregnant wife.

Vela returned to the field six months after playing against rival L.A. Galaxy in Miami, and was replaced in the second half by a knee injury that sidelined him for another three months.

The dynamic Mexican finished with four goals in seven regular season games, a fraction of the record of 34 he had in 31 games last year.

Vela is firmly anchored as captain after taking on the role in the middle of the 2018 season. He is one of seven players who are still with the club and who contributed to the win on day one in Seattle.

LAFC played without the 2019 MLS MVP and relied on established players and newbies to establish a formula for success that was slowly emerging until Vela’s return helped make it through to the CONCACAF Champions League final in December.

Along with fellow LAFC originals – Diego Rossi, Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Latif Blessing, Tristan Blackmon and Jordan Harvey – Vela expects the team chemistry and continuity to make the 2021 roster the best at the club.

Rossi, the young Uruguayan striker who won the 2020 MLS Golden Boot Award, scored the winner in Seattle in 2018 after a pass from Vela. Since then he has not stopped scoring and has attracted the interest of a large number of large teams in Europe and South America.

The talented Colombian midfielder Atuesta owns the middle of the field for LAFC and is widely recognized as the club’s most important player alongside Vela. He, too, has received serious interest.

Canada’s Kaye has consistently made her way on and off the pitch – referred to as one of the club’s fullest voices, helping less experienced players develop the LAFC way.

The Ghanaian utility Blessing, who lived up to his last name for the past three years, can play anywhere on the LAFC system.

Blackmon, the club’s first MLS draft pick, is a reliable starter outside of defender and continues to prove valuable.
In any case, Harvey has been a seasoned defender leading into the 2018 opening season, and he’s been encouraged to take on coaching responsibility as his playing time wanes.

When Harvey joined LAFC, it was his third experience on an MLS expansion team. He knew LAFC football boss John Thorrington and head coach Bob Bradley.

Like everyone else, Harvey went through a steep learning curve to digest Bradley’s system when veterans teamed up with young talent and a top notch vela to achieve record results in their freshman year.

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The next season was a significant improvement with an avalanche of goals and points. With the support of a strong defense, the club secured its first and only trophy, the Supporters’ Shield 2019.

Then the weirdness of professional sport in a pandemic and the difficulties that came with such an effort made 2020 a year to learn from rather than celebrate.

« The environment and culture we created in the first two years that were disrupted in 2020 and the hope that we can come back to that, » said Harvey, « this feels like everyone are really looking for it at the moment.  »

For Vela and his teammates, for the newcomers to Black & Gold, for the young talent who rose to the senior squad via the club’s youth academy, for the coaching team, including Bradley who moved up in the final year of his original Contract is located. Saturday is the first step in getting back what they built before improving from there.

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