Carlos Vela is 2018 MLS expansion team Los Angeles Football Club’s first Designated Player, the first high-profile signing they’ve made. Vela is very well known in Mexico, his native land, of course, and fairly well known in Spain, where he’s played the bulk of his professional career. Do you want to know about him, too? Let’s answer some of your biggest questions about Vela:
Who is Carlos Vela?
This one is easy: Vela was born in Cancun on March 1, 1989. He grew up in the coastal town, not traditionally known as a hotbed of talent. Vela eventually caught the eye of Chivas de Guadalajara, who signed him to his first pro contract.
So Vela made his debut for Chivas?
No, actually. He was a product of the academy but when he won the Golden Boot at the 2005 U-17 World Cup, which Mexico also won, he became a hot commodity and Premier League giant Arsenal snapped him up before he played a first team game in Mexico. But oops, Arsenal couldn’t get a work permit for him, so began his quest of going on loan, first to Celta de Vigo and then to Salamanca, and on to Osasuna, all in Spain.
Vela got his English work permit in 2008, and stayed at Arsenal until 2011. He never became a regular, however, mostly playing in cup games for the Gunners. In 2011, he spent a half-season on loan at West Bromwich Albion.
When did he start playing for Real Sociedad?
Vela was loaned to La Real for the 2011-12 season, and after that campaign went well for player and team, the club bought him from Arsenal, who were ready to move on.
In San Sebastian, Vela had his most successful run of his career, scoring 72 goals in 230 games across all competitions since the summer of 2011. He was also named Real Sociedad player of the year, twice, was twice selected La Liga’s Player of the Month, and played with Real Sociedad in the Champions League.
I was reading that Vela has scored 17 goals in 55 caps with the Mexican national team. That sounds like a small number of caps for a 28-year-old playing in Europe.
Yeah, Vela’s track record with Mexico is pretty all over the place. He started things off with a bang, with the aforementioned U-17 World Cup win in 2005. Of course, the senior level is a different story, and while Vela helped Mexico win the 2009 Gold Cup, he spent a long time away from El Tri.
In September 2010, Vela was suspended by the national team for six months for participating in a party with many of his teammates, although he and one other player, Efrain Juarez, had the harshest punishments. Vela did briefly return to the national team after that, but it was obvious he did not see eye to eye with former El Tri boss Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, and declined call-ups while he remained in charge.
For a time, it appeared Vela’s days with the national team were done, but he and Miguel Herrera, who eventually became Mexico manager, came to an agreement and Vela returned shortly after the 2014 World Cup. He helped Mexico win the 2015 Gold Cup, and he played in the 2017 Confederations Cup this summer for El Tri.
What happened at that party, exactly?
Let’s just say you can look up the various rumors online if you’re so inclined, although bear in mind the voracious nature of the Mexican press when it comes to the national team and anyone connected to it.
Does that have anything to do with Vela refusing to return?
Yes, probably. For context, Chicharito is effectively the choir boy of Mexican soccer and even he has spoken out about the viciousness of the Mexican press. Every player gets dragged through the mud, they all have to deal with whispers and unsubstantiated rumors turning into established fact, and that doesn’t even include the assessments rendered for every match performance. This is the bargain of Mexican soccer — you can be a superstar, but you have to contend with this treatment, and it isn’t always fair.
Bear in mind, too, that Vela not only had to deal with the rabid Mexican press in his career, but also the near-insanity of the English and Spanish media during his club career. In contrast, coming to the United States will be a picnic and Vela may actually get to live a regular life, something that is probably pretty appealing.
Sorry, I have to go back to this party suspension thing one more time. Is that the norm for him?
Not sure if partying itself is the norm for him, but he’s a player who has a rich life outside soccer. The biggest knock across his career, and that includes his stint at La Real, is that he doesn’t like soccer a lot, and basically doesn’t watch it in his free time.
"He said his head just wasn't in the right mind set and that soccer wasn't his passion," Herrera was quoted by Vice Sports about trying to woo Vela, unsuccessfully, for the 2014 World Cup. "He told me he doesn't even watch soccer on TV or even play it on a PlayStation. Honestly, that's what he told me."
"To be honest with you, I simply don't understand it," Herrera added. "We all die to play in a World Cup."
Then there was the time Vela claimed he was sick and had to miss Real Sociedad training. Actually, he was in Madrid the night before to go to a Chris Brown concert, and was caught after the fact. Real Sociedad suspended him and fined him €100,000. This happened in March, 2016, by the way, so it wasn’t a very past indiscretion.
Yikes. Ok, what’s the ultimate verdict here?
The upside? Vela has oodles of talent, and if he stays fit, healthy and committed, he could be an MLS Golden Boot candidate. He’s that talented, and he could definitely be a Top 10, even Top 5 player in the league. He’s also bilingual, which is definitely a boon for LAFC’s marketing efforts.
The commitment aspect is the big concern. Is Vela going to treat MLS as something he can slack off in, relax and basically put in the minimum? If that happens, it will be mighty disappointing.
It could be, however, that Vela will like the fact that the local press isn’t breathing down his neck all the time, and that might help him play better. It is true that his dedication will remain a question until he actually hits the field in Los Angeles, and it’s fair to ask. But who knows, maybe Vela is just like you or I — he works hard and then he follows other pursuits when he’s not on the clock. Is that so wrong?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!