Storylines is really looking forward to Leagues Cup, but there’s one opponent left between us and international competition: LAFC. I’m no fan of the Black and Gold, but I must admit, I like their style, and I love their number ten. Carlos Vela is a special talent, and he’s been changing the game since he first touched a ball.
Hailing from Cancún, Mexico, Vela grew up playing both basketball and soccer. When he was 12 years old, his father encouraged him to pick one or the other, and thank goodness he picked the right one. One of the most unique players to ever come out of North American soccer, the forward wields a wand of a left foot, rivaling our own Emanuel Reynoso for best leftie in the league, at least for now.
After choosing to stick with soccer, it wasn’t long before scouts from Chivas Guadalajara took notice of the young man’s skill. He joined their academy in 2002, where he impressed early on and earned a contract after helping Mexico win the 2005 U17 World Championship with his Golden Boot performance. The legend of Vela had only just begun, and what a story it would become.
Before long, it became clear that Vela was a generational talent in the Mexican player pool. His incredible awareness on the pitch and his quality and composure in the final third separated him from the pack, allowing him to shine more in every subsequent match. He turned the heads of multiple European clubs, ultimately earning him a move to Premier League giants Arsenal in November of 2005 as a teenager.
Vela’s life in Europe began with several loan spells, including time at Salamanca and Osasuna in Spain while he waited to get his permit to play in England. He continued to show flashes of brilliance, scoring eight goals in the Segunda Division with Salamanca in 2006-07, and three with Osasuna in La Liga the very next year. Following his second year on loan, he was finally granted his work permit and became a part of the legendary Arsene Wenger’s plans.
Though his time with the Gunners was fairly short, it was memorable, to say the least. Vela fit right in with Wenger’s style, showing an aptitude for the clever movement and passing that were a hallmark of the Frenchman’s tactics. A brilliant hat-trick in his full debut for the club was the perfect way to announce his arrival and prove once and for all that the kid from Cancún had the makings of greatness in him.
There were more highlights with Arsenal, but his story ultimately brought the Mexican international elsewhere. When he was loaned to Real Sociedad in 2011, he found a new home. The club purchased his contract outright after he scored 12 goals in 35 matches, and he went on to spend six years in the Basque Country. Before coming back across the pond, he notched over 50 goals for La Real in more than 200 games, earning his place as a club legend.
But Concacaf was calling. At the age of 29, Vela signed with LAFC as their first ever Designated Player on August 8, 2017. Since joining the league, his talent has been on full display, racking up individual and team honors alike across his five and a half years with LA’s newest MLS club. In 2019, he set a new single-season goalscoring record, hitting the net 34 times and taking home the Landon Donovan MVP award. Everything he touches turns into goals: the Mexican Midas, if you will.
Throughout his club exploits, the winger featured 72 times for his home nation between 2007 and 2018, when he retired from international football. He scored 17 goals for his country, featuring in two World Cups and winning two Gold Cups with El Tri. He’s had his ups and downs with the Mexican Football Federation, but his legacy should be considered nothing short of heroic.
Vela has been an integral part of every positive thing his club has accomplished, and he’s been a part of some amazing Mexico National Team sides. He’s the face of his franchise, the gem of a generation, and undoubtedly one of the greatest soccer exports to ever come out of Mexico. Carlos Vela is a North American soccer icon, and it is always a treat to watch him play. Despite my affinity for him, though, I sincerely hope he saves his next heroic exploits for another match.
Minnesota United FC vs. LAFC
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
07.15.2023 | MLS Game #22
7:30 p.m. CT (MLS Season Pass, 1500 ESPN)