MLS notebook: Carlos Vela's opening hat trick raises expectations — and his price tag — for LAFC

Every single thing Carlos Vela does or says this MLS season will be picked apart. (As if that wasn’t already the case.) LAFC’s star and first-ever signing is at a crossroads as his contract is set to expire in June. He's publicly said he has a desire to return to Europe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready to end his run in Los Angeles.

One thing is for sure: Yesterday’s price is not today’s price.

Vela kicked off the 2022 Major League Soccer season with a hat trick in 50 minutes as part of 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. It was the perfect start for new head coach Steve Cherundolo and LAFC 2.0 at Banc of California Stadium. “M-V-P” chants filled the air and it rekindled feelings from Vela and LAFC's record-setting 2019 campaign.

But for every good moment he has throughout these next few months, the value only rises more. The dilemma for LAFC is they don’t know what Vela they will get, if he’s able to remain healthy and be at the top of his game. General manager John Thorrington said there are active contract conversations and they’re “picking up speed." Vela’s hat trick is going to fast track those even more.

Vela isn’t much of a talker when it comes to media, but he’s clearly putting the pressure on LAFC and letting actions drive his intentions. It’s a complex situation to be in with a player of that caliber, considering the tumultuous past two seasons for him and the club.

New teammates Maxime Crepeau and Ilie Sanchez raved about playing with him instead of against, how he can take over games in an instance and his qualities as a leader. Those are positive signs for the Black and Gold right now, but what happens when that first bit of adversity hits? How do things change for Vela and this contract situation? LAFC can’t run the risk of waiting too long to make its decision, because he’s either going to keep scoring and boosting his stock, or things can get messy at the other end of the spectrum. As invested as he may be in winning MLS Cup with this team, he’s also not remotely bothered by the thought of moving on — and therein lies the danger.

“Of course, if it’s a good option for me, yes,” Vela said when asked if he’d like to retire as a LAFC player. “But it’s not in my hands. I’m waiting for the offer from the club, so if they don’t give a good thing I know it’s business and we will move forward. It’s nothing to be worried about, nobody will cry, nobody will die. If we are going in the same direction, yeah I’m more than happy to be here, but if it’s done, no problem.”

MLS Week 1 notes

Chicharito to the rescue: The LA Galaxy’s home opener had a lot of promise, with Douglas Costa making his MLS debut as they hosted reigning MLS Cup champion New York City FC. But the game was mostly chippy and lacked flow, with not too many chances from either side.

It looked like it was going to end in a disappointing stalemate until Raheem Edwards slipped a clean ball into the box at the 90th minute. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez made one of his vintage piercing runs, cut back to elude the sliding defender and blasted hit shot past Sean Johnson.

Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney has lauded his team’s attacking options this season, but the most impressive part was that defensively they were solid enough to keep a clean sheet, with some help from Jonathan Bond's saves in net.

“We played against the best team of MLS last season in our home, it was our home opener and we won in the last minute, you know? So yeah. The feelings are pretty positive,” Chicharito said postgame. “But like always, tomorrow we need to turn the page.”

CCL teams up and down week: Maybe this is the year? Four of the five MLS teams in CONCACAF Champions League are in the quarterfinals.

NYCFC took care of business with a 6-0 aggregate win over Costa Rica’s Santos de Guapiles. After a scoreless first leg in Honduras, the Sounders hung five on Motagua back home to wrap up advancement. Montreal, which lost 1-0 to Santos Laguna in Mexico, bounced back with an impressive 3-0 victory in Canada. The Rapids lost in penalties to Guatemalan side Comunicaciones and were eliminated. The New England Revolution automatically advanced after their Haitian opponent Cavaly AS had to withdraw from the tournament due to visa issues.

That's good overall success on the international stage for the league, but those teams didn’t fare so well in Week 1 of MLS. The Rapids, the Sounders Montreal, and NYCFC were all shut out. The Revs, the only team that didn’t actually play, still managed to give up a late lead in Portland and finished with a draw.

Nobody will place the early part of the season over CCL in terms of importance, but the balance and depth of rosters will certainly be put into play going forward, and that might hurt some of these sides a lot more than expected.

Cincy back at it again: It took all of two minutes for FC Cincinnati to have a defensive lapse and concede its first goal in 2022. They would go on and give up four more en route to a 5-0 loss in Austin.

The worst part is none of this is at all surprising. Since entering MLS in 2019, Cincy has an overall record of 10-38-10 with 116 goals against. They’ve had four different head coaches, plus two interims in between. Last year the club and then-general manager Gerard Nijkamp parted ways. The past two seasons they finished last in the East, and by the looks of it are going for a three-peat.

Geoff Cameron and FC Cincinnati are off to another rough start in the club's third year in MLS. (AP Photo/Stephen Spillman)
Geoff Cameron and FC Cincinnati are off to another rough start in the club's third year in MLS. (AP Photo/Stephen Spillman)

Simply put: Everything has been a disaster. They have one of the nicest stadiums in the league and the fans are loyal, but things need to change drastically and fast. Maybe that jump from the second-tier United Soccer League to MLS was just a bit premature.

Atlanta a contender? 67,523 fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City. Throughout the 90 minutes the Five Stripes were relentless in the attack and put the league on notice.

Josef Martinez didn’t score but he picked up a pair of assists. Dom Dwyer, in his first game with the club, showed he can be a solid contributor as he scored a highlight-reel goal 20 minutes after being subbed in due to a Luiz Araujo injury. Even 17-year-old homegrown defender Caleb Wiley got on the scoresheet in his debut.

Week 1 is all about overreactions, but Gonzalo Pineda’s squad might just have something to say in the race for MLS Cup this season.