Life without Carlos Vela finally begins for Los Angeles FC, who open their MLS Is Back group play Monday versus the Houston Dynamo.
The 2019 MLS Most Valuable Player and Mexico international, Vela set a single-season goal record with 35 in the regular season and averaged more than one goal per contest with 36 in 33 overall including the playoffs. Vela had picked up where he left off before the coronavirus pandemic with two goals in the first two matches as LAFC (1-0-1) picked up four points.
Vela, though, opted out of MLS Is Back, citing concerns due to the virus with his wife expecting a child soon. Overall, Vela has controlled 57 goals in 72 matches for the Black-and-Gold, leaving a huge scoring void Bob Bradley must try to fill.
“I would like nothing more than to be with my teammates in Orlando. I always want to give everything I have to my Club, our fans and supporters and the city of L.A. 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,” Vela said in a statement last Monday.
The organization threw its full support behind Vela, with general manager John Thorrington adding: “LAFC fully supports and respects the difficult decision Carlos and his family have made to not participate in the MLS Is Back Tournament. 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.
“We appreciate the support from the league, and we look forward to having Carlos re-join the Club when we return from Orlando and begin moving forward with the rest of the season.”
Bradley, though, does not lack for options even without Vela. The primary source of offense will likely be Diego Rossi, who had 17 goals last season and struck for one in the first two matches. The Uruguayan has racked up 30 goals in 71 matches since joining LAFC in 2018.
The team also signed veteran striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, the 35-year-old who is tied for eighth on the all-time MLS list with 108 goals but also coming off a disappointing 2019 campaign for the New York Red Bulls in which he had only two goals in 29 matches.
As LAFC look to make do without Vela, the Dynamo (0-1-1) are welcoming back top striker Alberth Elis, who missed the preseason and first two games through injury. Elis was second on the team in goals last season with nine but also missed eight contests.
“To be fair, Alberth was hurt pretty much throughout the preseason,” first-year Dynamo coach Tab Ramos told the Houston Chronicle. “We got to see him in a couple of training sessions, but I think five to 10 minutes into our game against RGV (in early February) he went out. Then we had the pandemic, then he came back, and then he had a little tweak again.
“For about the last week and a half, he’s been training really hard, so I’m very anxious to see him get on the field and make some things happen.”
Ramos is still searching for his first win as Dynamo coach, having drawn versus Los Angeles and getting thumped 4-0 at Sporting KC before the league had to shut down.
The Black-and-Gold did the double over the Dynamo last year with a pair of 3-1 victories. Rossi had goals in both matches, while Vela converted a penalty in the second contest after sitting out the first.