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LAFC 2020 player postmortem: Carlos Vela

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Awesome start, big lull in the middle, and incredible finish.

Tigres UANL v Los Angeles FC: Final - 2020 CONCACAF Champions League Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Carlos Vela was fresh off the best individual season in MLS history in 2019, the LAFC superstar breaking the league’s single-season scoring record, leading his club to their first trophy, and winning MLS MVP.

It was going to be hard to top that in 2020, and truthfully, he didn’t. But Vela showed his MVP status through both his presence and absence, somewhat remarkably.

Vela’s season was broken up into three chunks. The first was the opening four games of the season, the Concacaf Champions League series against Club León and the first two MLS games before the coronavirus shutdown. Vela scored four goals in those games, a brace in the return leg to advance in CCL, and a goal in each of the MLS matches.

So we can reasonably conclude he remained very much in 2019 form to start 2020 and looked great. And then...the shutdown.

Honestly, the shutdown may have cost Vela another MVP campaign, although we’ll never know for sure. But it definitely shut down his momentum, and then the injury...

Here are Vela’s stats in 2020:

Carlos Vela LAFC 2020 Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 7 4 422 4 1 22 10 0 0
MiB Knockouts 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 1 1 90 0 1 4 2 0 0
CCL 5 5 450 5 0 25 11 0 0
Total 13 10 962 9 2 51 23 0 0

As ever, it’s worth reiterating Vela’s choice to sit out the MLS is Back Tournament for family reasons, with his wife pregnant and another young child at home, and an inability for family to travel in to help at the time, was a totally reasonable and justified decision. It would have been nice for LAFC to win the tournament, yes, but it helped Diego Rossi push on to greater heights, in particular, and that turned out to be pretty important for the rest of the season.

And yes, the nonexistent middle of Vela’s season continued far longer than expected, after he hurt his knee in the first game back in August against the LA Galaxy. He looked a bit off the pace to begin with in the game, which was a bit odd, but then the injury was bad news. The bright side? It only lasted a few months. The downside? LAFC played about 300 games in those three months.

In reality, Vela missed 11 games in a row, and LAFC went 4W-6L-1D while he was out. Would they have won all 11 with him in the lineup? Probably not, but they most likely could have picked up some more wins in that stretch. That could have helped them avoid the Seattle Sounders in the first game in the playoffs, which didn’t go well for LAFC, of course, and who knows how the season could have gone?

But it’s not Vela’s fault he got hurt, since injuries are part of the game, and the good news is aside from the playoff game, Vela brought it to finish off the season. He scored two goals and an assist in the final four games of the regular season, three of those appearances off the bench.

And then, Vela showed his true value once more in the Champions League.

Vela scored LAFC’s first goal in the quarterfinal win over Cruz Azul, and then put in perhaps his best individual performance in the black-and-gold, with a furious comeback brace to open the 2nd half against Club América.

Soccer is a team sport, even when one player is standing out, seldom can you really give that player all the credit, and LAFC pulled together to win that game, with 10 men, against América. But Vela singlehandedly flipped the result for LAFC. Even Rossi, who was fantastic in 2020, could not have done what Vela did there, pretty much no other player in North America could have.

LAFC were so close to winning CCL, and it really would have been fantastic on so many levels to achieve that, but it would have been a fantastic capper on Vela’s tenure, with two major titles in three seasons with a new club, including the continent’s top title. But Vela was well-neutralized by Tigres in the final and LAFC ran out of gas, visibly, in the final 20 minutes of the game. It was bittersweet.

So Vela didn’t get to make his mark on MLS in 2020 because he had such limited playing time, but he truly showed he still very much has it in CCL, and nearly took LAFC to the summit. He was phenomenal, and with expectations pretty mixed heading into the Champions League restart, with LAFC struggling in league play, Vela very much helped LAFC end the season on a much better note.

Vela is 31 now and perhaps the silver lining to a tough 2020 is he may be better rested to get going in 2021, he didn’t put so many miles on his legs with so many games in such a short time. I think the reputation of Vela being unfocused and uninterested that he had when he played in Europe has never been present with LAFC, and he continues to show he’s motivated to be the best player he can be and help LAFC get as far along as possible. This is good for the club, and I don’t expect it to change in 2021, as long as he stays healthy. And if he does, maybe he’ll be able to get back atop the pack — hopefully with a trophy or two in hand — in the season to come. But even with a tough 2020, Vela showed in limited minutes he very much still has it, and fans should be very excited about that.

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