By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Aug 9, 2017) US Soccer Players - For expansion MLS clubs, first impressions are important. The first impression set by the other Los Angeles expansion club engrossed that club and stuck to it like a ball and chain and haunted it until its demise. The first impression LA’s newest Major League Soccer club gives off, specifically with its newest signing, will lead in the opposite direction.
With the stroke of a pen, LAFC showed that the club's leadership knows what it takes to win in MLS. They know their potential fan base. They understand what it will take to succeed in this market.
Carlos Vela became LAFC’s first Designated Player and will join the club in January 2018. Vela is contractually bound to Real Sociedad until then. He will play the first half of the La Liga season before coming stateside to join up with Major League Soccer’s newest side.
LAFC hopes Vela will become one of the league’s most productive players and the circumstances are there for that to happen. Vela’s talent is unquestionable. After helping lead Mexico to the Under-17 World Cup title in 2005, Vela landed with Arsenal but was unable to latch on there. After a few loan spells, Vela settled in with Real Sociedad. He had three consecutive seasons of double-digit goals and has had nine in two other campaigns. He has scored 65 goals in six seasons with the Spanish outfit.
With the Mexican national team, Vela has found the back of the net 17 times in 58 matches. His time with Mexico has been spotty though as he had a falling out with the Mexican Soccer Federation and refused constant call-ups to the national team. He even passed on the 2014 World Cup.
Vela is a regular with El Tri now. Many pin their hopes on him and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to get Mexico past the second round of the 2018 World Cup.
In landing Vela, LAFC will have a player who may contend for both the Newcomer of the Year and Most Valuable Player in 2018. Vela could become to LAFC what David Villa has become to New York City FC. Villa, who was NYCFC’s first signing, is one of the top handful of players in the league. He is the face of the franchise in New York and is a pleasure to watch whenever he steps onto the field.
Vela could be that as well. While not a youngster, at 28 Vela still has several great years ahead of him and is in the prime of his career. Vela will certainly play for Mexico in the 2018 World Cup and should still be strong enough to contend for a spot in the 2022 World Cup. Having a player like that around will only help endear the club to many within the large Mexican community in Los Angeles and its surrounding cities.
LAFC obtained such a talent without having any sort of history to point to or anything but a bright future to promise. They also landed a player who had been a target of several MLS clubs.
LAFC ownership has deep pockets with the likes of actor Will Ferrell, NBA legend and Los Angeles-area icon Magic Johnson, and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley. WE didn't know exactly how that influence and those financial resources would benefit the roster. Two previous signings were minor, with both Carlos Alvarez and Monday Bassey Etim now playing on loan to Orange County SC.
With Vela, LAFC showed that ownership is not tip-toeing into MLS. LAFC could become the West Coast version of Atlanta United. That expansion team raised eyebrows with its style of play and the attractive roster built over a short timeframe.
Aside from making a grand entrance into MLS, LAFC also will look to win over the city from the LA Galaxy. While the Galaxy has won an MLS-record five MLS Cups and boasts an unrivaled history in this league, the club is going through a difficult transitional period.
Sigi Schmid is the third Galaxy coach in the last 10 months. The team recently brought in Jonathan Dos Santos as a Designated Player and adds him to its arsenal which includes brother and fellow Mexican national teamer Giovani. Still, the Galaxy sit just two points out of last place and will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
LAFC’s hiring of Bob Bradley as its first-ever coach adds to that remarkable first impression. Simply put, LAFC is making all of the right steps from the start.
Any comparison to Chivas USA, the former LA-area expansion MLS club, begins and ends with Bradley. Bradley won MLS Coach of the Year for taking Chivas USA from the bottom-feeding laughingstock it was to a legitimate title contender in one season. The business plan, approach to the roster, and overall existence is vastly different between the two clubs. Any comparison end with LAFC’s stadium. That's something Chivas USA could never get around to formalizing, much less building.
This soccer city is LAFC’s for the taking. LAFC is the shiny new thing in Los Angeles, and Angelenos are famous for coveting newness. The only way to sustain the excitement that will form is to win. Another thing Angelenos love is a winner. Vela has helped ramp up that excitement and under Bradley will help ensure that this club is a contender from the start.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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