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LAFC can’t count on Carlos Vela for 38 goals in 2020

Expect a more rounded team effort in contributions.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

This is probably a pretty obvious sentiment, but it’s worth writing down nonetheless: Los Angeles Football Club can’t rely on Carlos Vela to score 38 goals across all competitions in 2020.

Vela had an unprecedented season in 2019 in MLS, breaking the league season scoring record, the combined goals+assists mark in a season, captaining LAFC to their first piece of silverware, winning their first playoff game and deservedly winning MLS MVP.

Could he be MLS MVP again this season? It’s possible, of course, although it’s also worth noting no player has won back-to-back MLS MVPs ever, and only one player, Preki, has won MVP more than once (the second award came way back in 2003). But again, it’s possible.

What seems unlikely, however, is to count on Vela to produce on the scoresheet at the rate he did in 2019. Vela was hungry, focused and in the best form of his career last year, but regression is a real thing, even for elite players, and chances are he will come down from the lofty heights of 38 goals and 16 assists in all competitions, because we are humans and sustaining best-ever runs usually don’t come for more than a season.

Realistically, what’s a good projection for Vela? If he scores more than 20 goals while adding a decent number of assists (like in the double digits) that’s a very good season for Vela, even if will pale compared to his 2019 stats. Approaching 30 goals? That would be a fantastic season, frankly.

On the flipside, if Vela will probably move back to the mean range in terms of goals this season, what does that mean for the rest of the roster? It’s time to step up.

That sounds odd for Diego Rossi, who led LAFC in scoring across all competitions in 2018 and increased his league goals total last year with 16, as the second option on the team. Rossi was the No. 4 scorer in MLS last year, so in that context, he had a very good season.

But if Rossi is going to go to Europe soon, the way to really solidify his transfer abroad is to score in buckets. If he can get to around 15 goals by the time the summer transfer window opens, he’ll likely earn that move and if not, will almost certainly be in the MLS Golden Boot reckoning with a chance to go after Vela’s record.

While LAFC had a knockout 1-2 punch of scorers in 2019, and I think Rossi can and should aim for more than he offered in 2020, behind them the rest of the team will need to pitch in at a higher clip overall.

Notably, Adama Diomande and Bradley Wright-Phillips have a relative luxury of not needing to be “the man,” which is great because playing time is limited and both players are starting the season injured. But Dio had eight regular-season goals in 2019, down from his 2018 total in MLS, while BWP had just two league goals for the New York Red Bulls last year, way off his five-season run of double-digit league goals. Both players dealt with injuries last season and Dio had some personal issues that kept him out of action for a stretch, but the good news is if one or both players can get healthy and in form, they should bounce back and collectively aim to notch 15-20 goals between the two of them.

The big name not yet mentioned here is Brian Rodriguez. Yes, he’s only 19, but he’s projected to be even better than Rossi, has been scoring regularly for the senior Uruguay national team, and has gotten plenty of playing time with LAFC. But he’s yet to score in a competitive game for the black-and-gold and has just one assist. It’s not unusual for players to need time to acclimate to MLS, especially when they arrive midseason, and an adjustment period is normal. But what’s a general expectation for Rodriguez with LAFC? He seems easily capable of reaching double-digit goals, if he can get off the mark in competitive action.

Collectively, these players can be projected to score around 60 goals, assuming they are healthy and getting regular playing time and on the roster. That’s still pretty ambitious, and only two teams scored more than 60 goals in 2019. If this group reached somewhere around 60 goals, they’d likely be in a good spot in the standings at the very least.

Beyond that, there are still other players on the roster. The midfield will be asked to pitch in with goals every so often — Latif Blessing had six in league play, Mark-Anthony Kaye had four and Eduard Atuesta had three last year, while newcomer Jose Cifuentes has shown a penchant from scoring from distance previously in his career — and occasional goals from the defense will also be part of the plan. There’s also the bench options, such as likely attacking sub Adrien Perez, who can pitch every so often. If this group can supply around 15 goals, to go with the 60 of the main attacking contributors? 75 goals would likely be best in the league again or thereabouts.

After going through all of this, I must confess this projecting is pretty useless in the grand scheme of things. Track records can mean everything or nothing at all once the games come regularly. Players can overperform and underperform.

But one thing is clear: Expecting Vela to match or surpass what he did last year is not smart, and I don’t expect LAFC’s coaching staff is depending on that. Still, with Vela still being a key player, likely the team’s most important player, the team needs to pitch in and find ways to support their superstar, perhaps more than ever in 2020.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!