Carlos Vela and His Three Amigos: What A Difference One Year Makes
In 2018, forward Carlos Vela took the league by storm in his inaugural MLS season with 15 goals and 13 assists to help expansion team LAFC reach the MLS Playoffs and the Semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in their first year of existence. Although Vela finished in the Top 10 in both goals and assists, it was not enough to bring home any silverware for the Black & Gold. Not only was Vela forced to miss 7 games in all competitions during the summer due to representing Mexico in the 2018 World Cup, he also had a couple of 3-game slumps where he did not produce any goals. The midfield duo of Benny Feilhaber and Mark-Anthony Kaye was just starting to gel until Kaye’s season-ending injury against the Galaxy in July. The club brought in reinforcements in league-veteran Lee Nguyen and was complimented with the insertion of Eduard Atuesta in the defensive-midfielder position to shift into the now classic midfield trio. The constant changes in the lineup for various reasons did not allow for chemistry to build between Vela and his midfielders.
What a difference one year makes.
Before the 2019 MLS season started, Vela set himself an individual and a collective goal: win the MLS MVP award and win MLS Cup with LAFC. It was clear that the motivation was there from the beginning.
Up until June 24th, LAFC has played 18 games in all competitions (16 regular-season matches and 2 Open Cup matches) with Vela scoring 18 goals along the way. Not only does the Mexican lead the league in goals and assists at the halfway mark of the season, he has his team in 1st place of the Western Conference. Vela has fully committed himself to the club to the point where he prioritized staying with the Black & Gold over attending the Gold Cup with Mexico to avoid missing valuable training sessions with his teammates. There have been no slumps as of yet as Vela’s production has been absolutely extraordinary in the scoring department. Although Vela is the team captain and gathers most of the attention from fans, media and opponents, he would not be where he is without a little help from his friends.
The departure of Benny Feilhaber in the offseason left an opening in the midfield, which was initially filled by Lee Nguyen. However, Nguyen suffered an injury during the second game of the year and was forced to miss several weeks because of it. Latif Blessing was asked to come out of his comfort zone as an attacking winger by head coach Bob Bradley and play as a central midfielder alongside Atuesta and Kaye, who was fully recovered from his own injury. The Three Amigos were born.
Out of the 15 goals that Vela scored last year, only a couple of them were assisted by a midfielder (one from Atuesta and one from Feilhaber). The connection between the midfield and attackers was not as good as it could have been as Vela caused most of his damage through penalty kicks, picking up loose balls in attack and partnering up with his fellow forwards. With a full preseason under their belts this season and more time on the training ground together, the chemistry has improved tremendously.
Andy Deossa of Yahoo Sports published an excellent story last month on Eduard Atuesta where Vela talks about the importance and impact the midfield has on his performances this season. “It makes my job easier to have Eduard, Latif [Blessing] and Mark [Anthony Kaye] playing well because I have to worry less about going to get the ball and simply just look for my spots.” Out of the 18 goals that Vela has scored up until this point, 8 of them have been assisted by one of the three midfielders mentioned above. That number goes to show the improvement in chemistry but also in overall growth the midfield has shown this season.
What a difference one year makes.
It’s true that Vela and company have yet to bring any silverware to Los Angeles. However, it is also true that at this rate, there shouldn’t be anyone able to prevent them from reaching those milestones at the end of the season. Although all the cameras are focused on Vela, he would not be where he is without his Three Amigos.