Coming into the 2021 season for LAFC, there’s a feeling that this could be the last go-round for this core of players.
Returning 10 of 11 starters for the upcoming season, which kicks off Saturday at Banc of California Stadium against Austin FC, the black-and-gold have a Supporters’ Shield, a trip to the Concacaf Champions League final in their first tournament and a lot of wins over the past three years, they’ve maintained remarkable continuity throughout.
But the desire to win trophies is as ardent as ever.
“For me, the most important [thing] is win something with my team because in the end, football is for the team,” LAFC forward Carlos Vela told reporters in English on Wednesday when asked if he would give up an MLS MVP in order to win a title. “So it’s so important for me to bring a trophy for this club, for these fans.”
Another member of the core around since the beginning, midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, says they feel a responsibility to continue to burnish the club’s history.
“We feel we have a responsibility to continue helping the team develop in the direction the coaching staff has set out,” he told reporters. “We’ve been here since the beginning so we know all the stages the club has been through and we pull on those experiences.”
One big reason there’s a feeling this could be the last dance for this core is because a number of LAFC players — including Eduard Atuesta, Diego Rossi, Latif Blessing and Kaye, among others — have been linked to potential moves abroad in the near- to medium-term future.
But the flipside is while that means those players have been playing well to garner that attention, the continuity the team has built has certainly helped them improve every year, something they even managed in 2020 when their CCL run washed away the taste of a disappointing MLS season.
“I feel great,” Vela said. “The more time you spend with players you have more chemistry, you can play better. You can prepare [for] a season in a better way. So I feel our team is stronger than other years. I hope we can do great things this year and we can maybe win a trophy and we can let our guys go. It’s one of the things on our mind and we have to work hard.”
Kaye admitted the timing is a consideration, but not a preoccupation for the players.
“You know what? It’s tough. It’s tough to answer that,” he said when asked if the team was in ‘now or never’ territory. “Obviously we all are aware of contract situations and stuff like that. Again, we just try to go out everyday and do our best and get three points every game. If we can do that and take care of those things then hopefully the season goes the way we planned and if things happen that we can’t control where players move on, then that’s football, you know? But for the seven guys, it’s our responsibility to make sure the team is moving in the right directions.”
And while you shouldn’t expect any real changes to LAFC’s entertaining style of play, Vela says one of his aims is to continue to give those watching the games a show.
“In the end the most important thing is have fun,” Vela explained. “Every time I go out on the field, I try to do my best, I try to have fun and try to create something for fans to say, ‘Wow. We come here and watched this.’ So it’s one of the goals I have in my head and I try to do it every weekend.”
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