Carlos Vela played in his sixth La Liga game of the season with Real Sociedad on Sunday, a 4-4 home draw against an improved Real Betis side. Vela played 30 minutes, during which time his team found the final equalizer to make it 4-4, although he wasn’t directly involved in the goal.
Altogether, since Vela was announced as Los Angeles Football Club’s first Designated Player signing and sent back on loan to Real Sociedad until the start of 2018, Vela has played in seven games across all competitions for La Real and two more for the Mexican national team. Here’s his combined total of goals and assists:
- Goals: 0
- Assists: 0
That seems concerning, doesn’t it? Vela is known as a versatile attacking player, yes, but his job is to score, right?
Yes and no. Certainly, every high-end attacking player is expected to produce in tangible ways, and that has yet to happen this season. And it’s not like he is playing for a goal-shy team, as Sociedad have scored the second-most goals in the league to this point, only behind Barcelona. So from a pure lizard brain perspective, yes, it’s a little concerning that Vela hasn’t had a direct role in any goals yet.
However, there are a couple major mitigating factors here. First, Vela is widely regarded as a forward, but he’s rarely played as one for Sociedad so far this season. La Real has an attack that is exceptionally fluid, with manager Eusebio Sancristan making full use of squad rotation, both in personnel and positions. Vela’s versatility, his ability to work with playmaking skills (he’s not the primary playmaker for Real Sociedad, but he does some of the work of a playmaker) means he’s been pushed back to midfield or less often, out on the wing when he plays. And that means he’s only getting a couple chances, tops, each game. And he just hasn’t put any of those away.
And that leads to the other factor. Out of a total 810 minutes Vela could have played for the nine games in which has played for club and country, he’s actually played 417. We all know Juan Carlos Osorio’s penchant for tinkering with his lineups, and given Mexico’s already clinched a World Cup spot, he has even more license to play around with everything.
It’s what’s happening at Real Sociedad that’s more interesting here. Sancristan should be credited with still playing Vela regularly — although you could acknowledge that fixture congestion forces his hand here if he wants his team to compete on all fronts. We’ve seen cases before where players sign pre-contracts with MLS and their managers bury them on the bench in their final months in Europe.
But it’s obvious that Sancristan is moving on from Vela. The Mexican isn’t out of the rotation altogether, but Sancristan is attempting to integrate the fairly deep group that will presumably be around all season, and so Vela is taking on a supporting role instead of leading like he did in the past.
In the six seasons since joining La Real, Vela has only had one in which he’s scored less than 10 goals in a season across all competitions, 2015-16, when he only scored five. Given the vast reduction in minutes so far, and anticipating that this will continue until Vela leaves Anoeta in the winter, he’s probably realistically on track to score a few goals. There’s no reason to not want him to produce now — being in form now should only help when he joins LAFC. But in context, his role playing deeper and playing as a reserve in most games these days means his opportunities to score will likely be limited.
And on some level, the main objective for LAFC at this moment is to hope Vela doesn’t get seriously hurt. If he makes it to Los Angeles unscathed for the 2018 MLS season, then mission accomplished. Beyond that, coming off the bench may help save Vela’s legs in what’s going to be a very busy 2018 (assuming he stays healthy). So yes, goals would be great, but for now, from an LAFC perspective there’s no reason to panic regarding Carlos Vela’s production for Real Sociedad.
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