One of the big challenges for MLS teams in general is having a season schedule that runs counter to the one used in most other leagues. While there are reasonable weather and logistical reasons for why the U.S. and Canada play through the summer and take the winter off, it does pose a problem at times when it comes to player transfers, including signings of big-name Designated Players.
So that’s why it’s a fantastic sign that 2018 MLS expansion team Los Angeles Football Club will be bringing their first DP, Carlos Vela, into the fold to begin their debut campaign. Some players want to finish a season with one club before joining the next one, but again, in MLS that’s usually not possible — a player has to choose one or the other.
Of course, LAFC is paying for the privilege, as they’ve reportedly paid a transfer fee for Vela to ensure he’s their player, and presumably one of the terms of that is dictating when he arrives. But even so, when it comes to Designated Players, especially the momentous first one, it’s important to get it right, including the timing.
From a competitive standpoint, LAFC needs Vela in the lineup from the opening game. Sure, there have been a few instances of DPs joining a club midseason and hitting the ground running — Robbie Keane joining the LA Galaxy in 2011 being probably the best example — but that has typically been the exception rather than the rule.
Expansion teams struggle in MLS. Atlanta United is the first expansion team in nearly a decade to buck that trend, and their three DPs were on the field from the very first game, and all have been effective. If LAFC want to follow that pattern, which admittedly looks to have been successful thus far this season, they need Vela (and fingers crossed, two more DPs) around from the very beginning. Otherwise, teams are apt to thrash around for the first half of the season while waiting for their star(s) to arrive, and that really isn’t a recipe for success for an expansion team.
Bear in mind, too, that 2018 is a World Cup year, and while MLS will take a break during the tournament, World Cup-bound players will still miss time while they’re in training camp and if their team progresses to the latter stages of the tournament. There are no guarantees, but Vela could go to the World Cup with Mexico, and if he does, he will miss games. Having him on the field to start the season is vitally important to hopefully bank some points before those absences come.
So having Vela start the La Liga season with Real Sociedad and then joining LAFC in January is the right move. Here’s hoping the squad around him is strong enough to hit the ground running, and compete for the MLS Cup Playoffs in the very first campaign.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!