LAFC is the first team in MLS history to start a season with back-to-back Golden Boot winners on its roster. Now if it could only start a game with both of them in the lineup.
Carlos Vela, who broke the MLS single-season scoring record in 2019, and Diego Rossi, last year’s scoring leader, have started just four MLS games together in the last 18 months. And that number is unlikely to change Saturday afternoon when LAFC faces the Seattle Sounders at Banc of California Stadium.
LAFC coach Bob Bradley said Thursday that Vela has not participated in full training since coming out of last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Austin FC midway through the first half with a muscle injury in his right thigh. Rossi is still slowed by the left hamstring injury that kept him out of that game.
Defender Kim Moon-hwan, who also missed the opener with Austin because of a knee injury, could see limited time Saturday in what would be his MLS debut.
“We feel good always about pushing the team and having guys ready when opportunities present themselves,” Bradley said. “[But] it feels weird the way the injuries have come because we’ve been pretty healthy, training’s been really good.
“So we’re a little bit frustrated. It’s not ideal. But we’ve got to have others ready when the moments come.”
Despite the fact LAFC is beginning just its fourth season in MLS, the team already has some significant history with Seattle. LAFC played — and won — its first-ever game in Seattle 1-0, then beat the Sounders by the same score in the first game at Banc of California Stadium. Seattle then returned the favor, knocking LAFC out of the playoffs the last two seasons. The Sounders beat Minnesota United 4-0 in its 2021 opener last weekend.
“It’s turned into a good rivalry. Obviously it’s two top teams in the league going toe to toe,” LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said.
As for the injuries, Kaye called it unfortunate but said LAFC learned to deal with those circumstances last season when Vela was limited to four starts.
“This is what a team is about. We have players who are ready to step in and perform,” he said. “We have a system that works. If you lose one or two players and your team can’t play, that means your system’s not good. And I think we have a good system here at LAFC. We’ve been working on it for the last three years.
“So whoever gets the opportunity to step in is going to take it with the right mentality. We know we’re capable of still creating chances, scoring goals, regardless of who’s on the field.”
Bradley said midfielder Eduard Atuesta, an MLS Best XI selection in 2019, is close to signing a contract extension with LAFC. Atuesta, 23, is one of several LAFC players who has drawn interest from foreign leagues with Brazilian club Palmeiras, the most recent suitor, reportedly offering a $4-million transfer fee earlier this year.
“I believe that they are either close or have finalized an extension to his contract,” Bradley said of the negotiations between Atuesta and LAFC general manager John Thorrington. “Eduard loves playing here and obviously he’s an important player.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.