Carlos Vela and Los Angeles Football Club Make History
October 10, 2019
Good as gold...Vela, Vela, Vela! The Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) just exploded into Los Angeles sports history by finishing with the best season record ever in Major League Soccer. They did it with panache, execution and beautiful football, led by fan favorite Carlos Vela, undeniably the league's most valuable player for the 2019 season.
LAFC shattered a number of single season league records on its way to a 3-1 dismissal of the Colorado Rapids in the regular season finale. LAFC (21-4-9) earned 72 points to beat the New York Red Bulls mark of 71 established last season. The Sunday clincher was that much sweeter in front of a packed house at Banc of California Stadium led by the infectious chants of the 3252 fan supporters' section.
"The most points in the history is really important because we showed how good we are," said Vela, who's center stage hat trick performance set a new league scoring record with 34 goals. "It shows how good our chemistry is but we want more. If we don't win the MLS cup then the record is nothing so we have to keep working."
LAFC tied the league record for most goals scored by a team in a single season with 85. Crosstown-rival L.A. Galaxy scored 85 goals in 1998. The Black and Gold also broke the MLS record for goal differential with +48... of course, bettering the mark of +41 set by the same 1998 Galaxy squad.
Vela scored all three goals in a twenty-four minute span with a variety and style that brought the house down. He delivered the first score in the 28th minute with a classic left-footed strike from outside the penalty box arc over the outstretched arms of Rapids goalkeeper and future Hall-of-Famer Tim Howard, playing the last match of his illustrious career. Latif Blessing assisted on the score.
Howard was impressed: "We were under pressure, that LAFC team is like not many I've ever seen, they're very good, hats off to Bob Bradley and the to the incredible job that he's come in here and done. Carlos Vela, I mean, what can you say, he's an absolute superstar."
"We fought tooth and nail and we gave ourselves a heck of a mountain to climb and we nearly scaled it. I'm just really proud of this group, I can be proud to hang up my gloves and finish my career on the back of what was an incredible run in the second half of the season."
Three minutes later Vela delivered greater magic with a bicycle kick from just in front of the Colorado goal area. With his back to the goal, he took a header pass from Tristan Blackmon off of a perfect cross from Eduard Atuesta and angled a dart down and into the back left corner of the goal, as defender Tommy Smith and Howard reacted in vain. The Banc erupted in ecstasy.
"I think some of our positional play was really important. When it's hot, you've got to make sure that guys are not just running all over, that they're positioned well, that you've got good options for passing," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. "When you lose balls, to be able to control situations or win the ball back. I was really pleased at that."
Vela's trifecta came in the form of an insurance goal. Rapids forward Kei Kamara had cut the lead to 2-1 in the 41st minute, punching a low crisp header off the right post and into the net past LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Six minutes into the second half Vela coolly redirected Blackmon's laser pass from the right corner of the pitch into the far left corner of the goal. Walker Zimmer also assisted on the play.
"It's hard for us to put it into words because we've never seen something like that, especially in the MLS, where a guy can come in and he cuts in with his left foot and curls to the back post every time and it manages to go in," said Miller of Vela.
"I think the goal differential record (is the most important record), because that shows a total team effort... To really improve on the amount of goals that we've given up I think has made the biggest difference as well as how well our offense has played."
LAFC also allowed the fewest goals in the league this season with 37. They have a bye in Round 1 of the Playoffs and will have home field advantage at the Banc throughout due to winning the Supporters' Shield trophy. They can secure a select status in MLS history if they advance and win all three potential Cup Playoff matches.
LAFC will host the winner of Minnesota United FC / L.A. Galaxy match on Thursday, Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m. in the Western Conference Semifinal match. The Galaxy will travel to Minnesota for Round 1 on Sunday, Oct. 20. The Galaxy and Minnesota United have the edge over LAFC this season, having both tied and beaten the Black and Gold in their respective two-match series.
"At the end of this incredible season which we're all proud of, to see Carlos finish off that way is special for everyone," said Bradley. "He's a great teammate, he's good to the people around him every day and he's had just a special, special year. That is first. We're all incredibly proud of what he's accomplished."