Carlos Vela has been a monster for Los Angeles Football Club so far this season. The Mexican international has quickly established himself as one of the best players in Major League Soccer, with seven goals and five assists in 12 games so far. He’s been instrumental in LAFC’s strong standing in the West, and can be relied upon to make plays on a game-by-game basis.
Vela has been playing so well, in fact, that he has once again been called up by the Mexican National Team. This presents a bit of a conundrum for LAFC, as they will be without their best player while he represents his country in Russia. So what do the Black-and-Gold do without Carlos Vela?
LAFC can count on Vela being gone at least until the end of June, that being the group stage. This means that they will be without him for at least five games, and could be double that depending on LAFC’s progress in the U.S. Open Cup and Mexico’s progress in Russia. In the meantime, they will have to use some of their newly-acquired depth to take his place. They will need players to step up and not only cover for Vela’s goal-scoring production, but also his movement and creativity that does not show up on the score sheet.
The keys to take his place lie in a couple places on the pitch. The obvious keys are that Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing will have to step up to the absence of Carlos Vela. These two have been key pieces of one of the most threatening front fours in the league, and will have the task of producing without Vela alongside them.
Recently, Vela has been playing further up the pitch as more of a forward than a midfielder, since Marco Ureña went down to injury. This meant that Benny Feilhaber moved up the pitch, and Eduard Atuesta moved into the defensive midfield position alongside Mark-Anthony Kaye. Without Vela, that means that if Feilhaber moves back to the defensive mid, LAFC need to fill in the striker and the No. 10 role. If they stick with Atuesta, they need another striker.
That striker could very well be brand new signing Adama Diomande. The striker from Hull City has only made two appearances for LAFC, one against D.C. United and the other in the friendly against Dortmund, but has not looked half bad in either. He has the ability to hold the ball and move it to his teammates, looking for the option to either pass or shoot, and has already shown that he can find some open space. This is good news, as he can slot right into the striker position.
Another recent signing that is going to be very important when Vela is out of town is Lee Nguyen. Nguyen played at the No. 10 role for New England and established himself as a very good MLS player, and was brought to Los Angeles with the hope that he would get back his old form after being unsettled in Foxborough. He can slot right into the attacking midfield spot, in which case Feilhaber would move back defensively. Nguyen has appeared in several games for Bob Bradley, and has clearly gotten used to his new teammates and the style of play. He is going to be very instrumental in the success of LAFC while Vela is out, and definitely has the ability to change a game.
The dark horse candidate to step up for LAFC while Vela is out is Aaron Kovar. He’s only appeared once for Bob Bradley, not including the appearance against Dortmund, but that match gave Bradley a good look at the midfielder in game action. I’m not saying that Kovar will be starting for LAFC in place of Vela, but when you have a depleted squad, some guys that are further on the bench will likely appear more often as substitutes. Kovar is going to be one of those guys that needs to step up when he gets the opportunity. If he plays like he did against Dortmund, we’ll start to see him more and more.
Another name would be Andre Horta, LAFC’s third designated player, but he will not be eligible to play until July 10, either around the time or after Vela comes back.
LAFC have the daunting task of playing a decent chunk of their schedule without their best player. They are not the deepest team in the league, but will still have some key players in the roster to take the place of Vela and hold down the fort. While they will certainly miss the Mexican forward, between Diomande at striker and Nguyen at midfielder, along with the players that are already in place and not going anywhere, LAFC should be able to manage.
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