Carlos Vela still out for LAFC, and his long-term future with team is unclear

Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela motions during the second half of an MLS playoff soccer match.
LAFC forward Carlos Vela will not play Saturday against the Houston Dynamo, and his plans after the 2021 season are unclear. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

LAFC coach Bob Bradley expects to have Diego Rossi, the reigning MLS scoring champion, available for Saturday’s game in Houston, but captain Carlos Vela, the 2019 Golden Boot winner, is unlikely to make the trip.

“You can see in his training that he’s missing being on the field,” Bradley said of Rossi, who had 14 goals and four assists last season.

Rossi and Vela are the first teammates to win scoring titles in back-to-back seasons but they’ve started just four times together the last two years. Rossi missed LAFC’s first two regular-season games because of a left hamstring injury while Vela started the opener but came out midway through the first half with a knot in his right quadriceps.

Vela hasn’t trained regularly with the team since the injury and Bradley pronounced him “questionable” for LAFC’s first road game.

“We’re hopeful to get Carlos back as quickly as we can,” he said. “I have my fingers crossed that Carlos might be ready for a little bit next week.”

Bradley could not provide an update on Vela’s long-term future with his team. The former Real Sociedad attacker, 32, has been linked to a return to Spain with Real Betis, leading LAFC to open talks about a two-year contract extension, according to journalist Salvador Perez.

“My conversations with Carlos are [about] trying to find the right way to work together with our team,” Bradley said. “I don’t know anything about where it stands in terms of contract negotiations.”

Vela made $6.3 million in 2019, the last year for which figures are available, and a raise could make him the highest-paid player in MLS history. That designation currently belongs to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was paid $7.2 million by the Galaxy in 2019.

Bradley had mixed news on two other players who missed last week’s draw with Seattle, saying that he expects forward Danny Musovski, who was out because of a hip pointer, to be in uniform against the Dynamo (1-1-0), while defender Tristan Blackmon has not rejoined team training. Blackmon has been training on his own, Bradley said, adding that it’s possible he could make the trip to Houston, but “it’s not 100%. Regardless he would not start.”

Diego Rossi kicks the ball during a match against the Houston Dynamo in 2020.
Diego Rossi is set to be back on the pitch Saturday when LAFC plays the Houston Dynamo. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

LAFC (1-0-1) listed Blackmon’s absence under the league’s health and safety protocol, which includes positive or pending COVID-19 results, quarantine related to high-risk close contact or high-risk behavior and other illness not related to COVID-19. A team spokesman declined to be more specific.

Bradley is also monitoring the progress of right back Kim Moon-hwan, the team’s biggest offseason signing. Kim, a South Korean national team player, has been slowed by a knee injury and the adjustment to LAFC’s style of play.

“He’s been in full training this week and he continues to adapt,” Bradley said. “There’s a learning curve [but] we're confident he’ll be able to help us. We’ll just see when those first opportunities come.”

Apart from getting healthy, goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega said the team will also have to change its approach to playing on the road after winning just one away game in 2020. In its first two seasons, LAFC led the Western Conference with 15 road wins.

The game Saturday is the first of three on the road for LAFC.

“The biggest thing is kind of changing our mentality,” said Sisniega, who has conceded one goal in two games this season, “You want to win every road game. It’s not like we’re going to go play for a tie. We’re going to go play to see what happens.

“Our mentality is we’re going to go out there and try to get a positive result every single match. Last year we weren’t good enough in that respect.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.