I have to say this off the top: I supported Carlos Vela’s decision to sit out the MLS is Back Tournament for personal reasons, and I still support it. He put his family first and that’s absolutely admirable, especially at this time.
LAFC did an admirable job of weathering Vela’s absence in the tournament through the first four games, with the attack scoring at a blistering pace and going unbeaten. With Diego Rossi’s star turn, it looked like LAFC could even win the whole tournament with the league’s best player not available throughout.
But LAFC clearly ran out of gas against Orlando, and while they didn’t have the same mental letdown game they’ve had in the past after big wins, they didn’t have the legs to put some goals on the board and some distance between them and their opponent. And with Orlando staying in the game, they needed one play to level it and got the job done, before the Lions won the penalty shootout to advance in the quarterfinal.
With Vela on the field, LAFC could have done something they’ve done plenty of times over the past three years: count on him to create a goal out of nothing. LAFC’s attack is potent and multifaceted, but even with the firepower they possess, sometimes you need the superstar to dribble through traffic and unload a curling blast to get that vital goal.
And that’s what was lacking on Friday. LAFC were hustling, but they weren’t their usual free-flowing group, and this tight elimination game cried out for a gamebreaker like Vela. I think Rossi has done a terrific job in the tournament, and his play to set up LAFC’s goal was an example of that single play to change the game, but with Vela on the field, the opponent’s focus would either be on him or they would be unable to stop him from finding the look or two he needs. And that would have given LAFC a big boost, obviously.
You could argue that Vela would have suffered from the same heavy legs as the rest of the team on Friday, and that’s a fair point. We know he doesn’t like to come out of games, and would likely have played 90 minutes every time out or just about. All I’d say is even if Vela was tired like the rest of the team, having him at 80 percent capacity and on the field would have still given Orlando fits beyond what they dealt with on the night. And again, Vela could do major damage with just one or two good chances in a game.
So, through his absence, I think Vela truly showed his value on Friday. LAFC won’t have him forever, and you never know about injuries or other personal factors keeping any players out of games. But in a game that was decided on the finest of margins, could Vela have given that little bit extra to put LAFC over Orlando and advance to the semifinal? We’ll never know for sure, but I think it’s safe to say he would have helped the cause. And if LAFC return to action at home this year, Vela is a very, very good option to bring back into the fold.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.