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Major League Soccer’s best player is skipping the MLS is Back Tournament.
LAFC forward Carlos Vela, who scored a record-smashing 34 goals last season en route to winning MLS’s most valuable player award, will sit out the league’s World Cup-style event set to kick off this week in Orlando, Florida, the team announced on Monday:
MLS gave its players the option of skipping the monthlong tourney because of family or health reasons. Vela’s wife is pregnant with the couple’s second child.
“I would like nothing more than to be with my teammates in Orlando,” Vela said in a statement released by LAFC. “However, it is in the best interest of the health of my family to stay home and be with my wife during what is a risky pregnancy.”
The decision makes the 31-year-old Mexican national team veteran the highest-profile player in the league to opt out so far.
The 2020 MLS regular season was postponed in March after just two rounds of games because of the global coronavirus pandemic. The top league in the United States and Canada is hoping to resume its campaign inside empty stadiums following the competition in Orlando.
Vela is far from the first athlete to choose not to play amid a health crisis that has killed more than a half-million people worldwide, a quarter of them in the U.S. Several members of the World Cup champion U.S. women’s national team are sitting out the National Women’s Soccer League’s tournament, which began last month in Utah. Four NBA players announced they’ll skip that league’s return in August, also in Central Florida, while five Major League Baseball players did the same.
The marquee first-round match of the MLS event was supposed to be the July 18 meeting between Southern California rivals LAFC and the LA Galaxy. The tilt will lose much of its luster without Vela, although the Times report stated that Vela’s longtime El Tri teammate Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez would travel with the Galaxy to Orlando even though his wife is also expecting.
In LAFC’s press release, general manager John Thorrington said that Vela had full support of the club. “We have had numerous conversations with Carlos throughout this process and understand his unique situation and the importance of Carlos being home with his family at this time,” Thorrington said. “We appreciate the support from the league, and we look forward to having Carlos rejoin the Club when we return from Orlando and begin moving forward with the rest of the season.”
Shortly after the news abut Vela broke, the Miami Herald reported that Inter Miami forward Robbie Robinson, the top overall pick in January’s draft, would also miss the MLS is Back Tournament because of family reasons.
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