Carlos Vela broke the MLS single-season scoring record in style, with a stunning opening goal and a hat trick in LAFC’s 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids.
He finishes with 34 goals this season, surpassing Atlanta United star Josef Martinez’s record of 31 from last year.
Not even goalkeeping legend Tim Howard was going to stop Carlos Vela’s record, which came via another magical strike from the left foot, this time from far outside the box (via ESPN):
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 6, 2019
Three minutes later, Vela added No. 33 to his tally by driving a bicycle kick in the back of the net:
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 6, 2019
The third goal came in the 51st minute in front of the 3252 fan section. And the reactions? As always, a smile and embrace with his teammates, then back to business.
You won’t usually see Vela overcome with emotions, which is why out of the countless highlights from this year, two moments stand out most.
Locked in the middle of a tense battle against the rival Los Angeles Galaxy on August 25, manager Bob Bradley subbed Vela out of the game eight minutes after he scored the equalizer due to injury concerns. Visibly upset, Vela threw his captain’s armband to the ground, made his way up the sideline complaining and had some words with coach.
Often criticized for not caring, Vela uncharacteristically demonstrated through actions how important that stage was to him. The match resulted in a draw and the armband spike was a headline that circulated until the hamstring injury actually forced him to miss two games.
But Vela’s persona was truly depicted after winning the Supporters’ Shield. While teammates passed the trophy around, posing with family and loved ones, the captain was nowhere close to the celebration. Instead he was jogging around near midfield after his son Romeo, lifting him in the air and flashing that same grin he does after scoring goals, eventually putting him back down and starting to chase him again. After some time Mohamed El-Munir’s children joined, and there was Vela, the dad and family man, running behind all three of the kids.
It was symbolic of what truly keeps the Cancun native at ease, and he has never shied away from prioritizing his tranquility since making Los Angeles home.
“It would have to be something very specific for me to want to leave [LAFC],” Vela said earlier this season when asked if a return to Europe was in his future. “I’m doing well, my family is happy and I’m enjoying. That’s what is important in life. Of course soccer is important, it’s my job, but what truly matters is where you are happy and could have a good future for your family.”
Creating that atmosphere was one of the reasons he became the franchise’s first signing.
“From the beginning he felt that it would be excellent for him and his family,” Bradley told Yahoo Sports. “He could enjoy his football and still have privacy, and an ability to enjoy themselves. You can see the balance is working well for him. Everybody knows who he is, with his smile and his talent – it’s recognizable everywhere. But he also appreciates just the quiet side.”
His calmness while anchoring the top squad in Major League Soccer has been admirable. Not only did he run up the numbers with record goals and assists, but he elevated the quality of those around him.
The results? One of the best teams in MLS history, setting a single-season record with 72 points.
“He’s been the best contributor to our season, this club and to the success. He’s put us on another level,” defender Jordan Harvey said. “When he’s on the field, even when he’s not scoring, which is rare, he’s still affecting the game. His success is due to his work ethic, his skill and … his left foot.”
That’s Vela’s signature finishing move, one that has been dreaded by many. All it takes is a little space. Once he taps the ball lightly to the left with the outside of his cleat, you already know what follows. Without hesitation the shot is up, seemingly off target, then it somehow curves perfectly at the decisive moment and tucks over the right shoulder of another unfortunate goalkeeper into the net.
Misery to opposing players, teaching experience for the Black and Gold.
The defenders are up against it continuously at practice so it maintains their sharpness, while LAFC keeper Tyler Miller just hopes to keep the curling masterpiece from sneaking behind him. Any down time between reps at the training facility often turns into Vela sending shots Miller’s way, which Miller cherishes in a unique fashion.
“Honestly, Carlos Vela was the first professional jersey I bought,” Miller told Yahoo Sports. “I bought an Arsenal jersey when I was like 12. I remember thinking about players and I really liked him so I bought a jersey, never thinking about in like 13 years I’d be playing with him.”
Miller laughed it off then finished, “Yeah, I had him sign it for me.”
That’s what Carlos Vela embodies – an inspiration-turned-mentor to many. Diego Rossi said he was 10 when he first heard of him. Fast forward and Rossi’s combining with the superstar for 50 goals this season.
Vela is already the top-scoring Mexican in MLS history and will likely become the league’s first Mexican MVP. Two years in and the accolades are overflowing. Ask him about any of the accomplishments though, and you’ll never sense a bit of boasting. Instead of being self-centered, he applauds those around him.
His teammates dish it back, recalling card games during road trips, jokes on the training ground, or simply just having breakfast at the facility and chopping it up about anything but soccer.
“It’s a tremendous record, he’s put in a historic season for our team and MLS,” Miller said. “He’s always gonna be someone that people could look up to. Great opportunity for a lot of young players to learn from him.
“It has been amazing to see what he’s done this year,” he added. “But we also have a job to do in the playoffs.”
If LAFC does indeed end up winning MLS Cup, it would be on November 10 at Banc of California Stadium. Out of all the milestones, that one holds the highest significance.
Nine days after that, Vela’s son Romeo would turn three years old and soccer would take a backseat.
And Vela would celebrate what truly means the most.
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