Carlos Vela recently set a record for most goals and assists in a single Major League Soccer (MLS) season, hitting a fantastic 27 goals and 15 assists.
He also this season became the highest scoring Mexican in MLS history. It looked like he moved to end his career, like so many have, but instead found a new lease of life.
When Carlos Vela arrived in London to begin his tenure with Arsenal, hopes were high. Arsène Wenger viewed him as a striker similar in type to Eduardo, who was at the hands of an infamous leg break thanks to Birmingham’s Graham Taylor.
However, a series of unsuccessful loan spells followed. The highlight of this period was his 2007/08 loan to Osasuna, where he scored three goals and got four assists in 33 games.
Eventually, Vela would make a move to Spain permanent and sign for Real Sociedad and go on to make 250 appearances for the Basque club, in that time scoring 73 goals along with 40 assists.
Finally, in 2017, Vela would depart Spain for nine million pounds, and make for California to play for Los Angeles FC, a club only founded four years prior and yet to play their first MLS game (in which Vela would come to provide an assist).
It would mark an entirely new stage in the Mexican’s career.
In their first season in the MLS, LAFC finished third and were unlucky to miss automatic qualification to the Western Conference semi-finals. Instead, the club went out in the Knockout Round in a 3-2 home loss to Real Salt Lake.
While it was disappointing for the club to exit on that note, the season was a huge positive. Vela provided 15 goals and ten assists across all games.
LAFC finished third, whereas New York City FC and Minnesota United (both new in 2017) finished 4th and 17th respectively.
In 2016, the new teams (Atlanta United and Orlando City) finished 4th and 7th. Atlanta, in the following season, would win the MLS Cup.
This season, Vela has arguably been the league’s best player.
Beyond his simply outstanding achievement of 42 goals involvements, he has been beating heart of an LAFC team which is dominating the league.
He leads the league in shots (132), shots on goal (60), and goals (27).
He’s also only three behind leading in assists and is on track to blow apart Josef Martínez’s one-year record of 31 goals in a season.
His goal in the 41st minute against San Jose Earthquakes is a definite goal of the season contender.
The numbers don’t lie, and Vela is having a truly marvellous season.
If the numbers don’t do it for you, think about his feud with Zlatan. It takes a lot to make the lion tremble, and tremble the Swede did.
No matter what league you’re playing in, the numbers that Carlos Vela continues to post is fantastic.
The influence he’s exuding around his LAFC teammates is nothing short of Wayne Rooney at Manchester United. He had the quality to play in a top European League.
This quality was seen again this year when Barcelona flirted with his signature.
Vela even stated that a deal had been agreed and only went south due to the Catalan clubs bringing in Kevin-Prince Boateng instead.
So, where did it go wrong, if it did?
It was a surprising decision that Vela move to North America at the tender age of 29, around when he should be reaching his peak as a forward.
Vela departed to Spain from England because he was unhappy at the time, according to Diego Mancera, a journalist at El Pais.
Despite his success in Spain, he was never quite the focus of a Sociedad team which was currently hosting Antoinne Griezmann.
According to many of his coaches, Vela just didn’t quite love the game enough to push himself to the levels of which he was capable.
As such, inconsistency was a factor which plagued the Mexican.
The struggle was the Vela needs players around him that suit what he’s trying to do.
In joining LAFC, Vela ensure he would become the centre of a team – he was LAFC’s marquee signing.
Vela’s game thrives when he’s given license to run at teams, to pick them apart with a tricky run through.
Players make runs based on his, pulling defenders away to give him room, or to enable his pass.
Late runs into a box or cutting in from the right to whip the ball with his left (trademark Franck Ribéry).
Vela is a terrifically talented player and having players based around what he’s doing complements this.
It’s why he’s struggled in a national team with Giovani dos Santos and Javier Hernández.
Arsenal clearly didn’t suit this in his youth, and Sociedad didn’t quite allow him to outshine Griezmann.
It didn’t go wrong for Vela, not by a longshot. His career has come back from stalling and a player has risen from the ashes that looks like it could work in Europe.
However, Vela recently stated his claim to retire in Los Angeles so he could instead be a new pinnacle for the MLS and set the bar for the type of player to come.
Since David Beckham first started the trend, a host of superstars have joined; Nani was only 32 when he joined Orlando.
Vela is finally getting the praise his potential has always deserved and he made a bold move to do it.
His actions have given a new image of the MLS, raising the league to a new standard.
MLS isn’t going anywhere but up, and while players like Vela give it a hand, he may soon have other talents joining him from Europe to restart themselves.