Carlos Vela is a record holder. The Mexican international scored a hat-trick during LAFC’s 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids at the weekend which saw him break the MLS record for most goals in a single season.
The record, which now stands at 34 goals, was previously held by Josef Martinez. As well as surpassing Martinez’s achievement, Vela also had the pressure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic breathing firmly down his neck. The Swede has been far from humble since arriving in the league, especially when discussing the Golden Boot race.
“I am trying to score goals every game, that is part of my responsibility, part of what I have to do to help my teammates,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have 29 goals in 28 games. If I would have the same amount [of] games like the other ones, it would be different. But now I’m chasing someone that has more games than me. If we score we score, we’ll have to see what the end number will be. If there still is a possibility, we’ll try.”
The fact we are witnessing two world-renowned stars engage in a straight shoot out is no doubt exciting. Still, perhaps the most surprising aspect of this all remains that it came so close to never happening.
“It was really close,” Vela said of interest from Barcelona earlier in the year. “My second month for holidays, I was there with my piña colada and my agent called me to say ‘look, Barcelona is calling you. They want you to play for four months then you can go back to LA.’ I said just say yes, I don’t care about the money or nothing. I’m going to start training tomorrow, give me two weeks to be a little bit fit. Barcelona, Real Madrid you can’t say no. ... If it was only my choice, for sure, I’d take it.”
The move would have taken Vela back to La Liga, but it would also have disrupted his commitments with LAFC. Separate and apart from any individual success for Vela, one should even question whether LAFC would have finished top of the Western Conference this season in his absence.
It is also worth evaluating what that sliding doors moment may have done for Vela and LAFC in the long-term. A loan to Barcelona may have tempted him back to Spain permanently, or it may have fractured his relationship with LAFC fans beyond repair. Instead, he has collected a Supporters’ Shield trophy and is now awaiting the playoffs and a chance for MLS Cup glory.
As if the player’s life was not already a whirlwind, there is a fight against a defined narrative about the player’s greatest weakness— consistency. Vela produced a combined 49 goals and assists in one season. There is rightly talk about him being possibly the best Designated Player in league history.
When stacked against the established perception of Vela --someone who once told Canal+ he is not fanatical about football-- it’s fair to assume we are seeing someone different. Or maybe we aren’t. Perhaps instead we should just accept Vela for what he is, and not what he could be, because what he remains is a wonderfully entertaining, and happy, footballer.
As Yoan Cuezva, a journalist who covers Real Sociedad put it, “Consistency was never his strength. He’s a player who, if he wanted, could have been in the top 10 in the world. But for him, the most important thing was just to be happy in his own way. He was happy with his life at Real Sociedad.”
After all, L.A. is no stranger to star athletes ready to grow their brand and or be distracted, but in Vela, there is a quiet alternative. His great rival Ibrahimovic has taken out full-page adverts and done the talk show circuit. Vela remains quiet, scoring goals, and being the best player in MLS.
This season can already be considered a success for both player and club. The potential for it to get even better with an MLS Cup win could help elevate a team in its infancy to dizzying heights is. When the future is so exciting, it’s hard to focus on the present.
“I want to be here for the rest of my career,” Vela told BS the Podcast with Benny Feilhaber and Sal Zizzo. “I’m really happy here, playing in LA. I want to be here.”
That news should not only excite LAFC fans but terrify his opponents.