Carlos Vela has had a very strange season, even by 2020 standards.
The reigning MLS MVP started the season very well, scoring two goals to power Los Angeles Football Club to a Concacaf Champions League rally and series win over Club León, before notching two goals in the first two league games before the sports world shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After sitting out the MLS is Back Tournament for family reasons — I didn’t begrudge that decision then and still support it now — Vela got hurt on his first game back, in August, and missed the next 11 games, with LAFC going 4W-6L-1D in his absence.
The black-and-gold still made the playoffs, but they were far from their dominant peak of 2019, and it wasn’t just Vela’s absence that contributed to it, with fixture congestion, international absences and injuries hitting LAFC in a way that hadn’t happened before.
Still, Vela’s return has been strong, with the 31-year-old scoring two goals in four games since returning at the end of October. And they’ll be counting on him to take the lead role once more, with Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez out for LAFC’s playoff game Tuesday against the Seattle Sounders.
Rossi and Rodriguez have tested positive for coronavirus and are definitely ruled out, and so Vela will likely start alongside two of Bradley Wright-Phillips, Danny Musovski and Christian Torres against the Sounders. While BWP has plenty of experience, too, the duo have only played a few minutes together so far.
When asked if Vela is ready for the moment and if he can handle getting the extra attention in the playoffs, LAFC head coach Bob Bradley told reporters Sunday that it’s par for the course.
“First off, Carlos is used to getting a lot of attention from every team we play against,” he said. “He’s smart. He never shies away from contact. His movement off the ball is so important to find spaces, to be on the move going forward.”
Given LAFC’s last playoff game was against the Sounders, Bradley referenced a flashpoint play from that game, and seemed to lobby the officials to let the star attackers not get trucked by defenders, as Vela was last year.
“Look, in any game you watch around the world, the referee’s job is to make sure the game is protected, that when there’s an attacking advantage somewhere on the field that only a good defending play stops them,” Bradley explained. “Not just a physical play, not grabbing the shirt, not any of the other things. It’s the referee’s job to be able to make sure that attacking situations are handled and when something needs to be called, it’s called. There was an important play in the playoff game last year, where [Xavier] Arreaga slammed Carlos. If that situation happens again, between the referee and the VAR, we’ll see how that gets handled.”
With Vela back in the scoring column and looking good upon his return from injury, there’s reason to believe LAFC could still beat the Sounders. And Bradley is confident the team’s brightest star is ready for the moment.
“I think Carlos, we’ve seen in some of the last games, his confidence, his ability to take the ball and go with it, making hard, deep runs, his ability when there’s some contact to keep going. So when you have an MCL [injury] those things take a little bit of extra time, just to have the confidence back. But we’ve seen that in the recent games and we’ve seen that in training,” he said.
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