Determined to improve on LAFC's 2018, Vela has an MVP look early in 2019

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Shaun Clark
The Mexican is playing some of his best soccer in MLS, and his latest two-goal effort showed just how serious he is on leading LAFC to a big year

Carlos Vela has made it clear that the MLS MVP award is one of his goals in 2019, and after his latest standout performance for Los Angeles FC, it is easy to see just how serious he is.

Vela scored two goals on Sunday at Yankee Stadium to help LAFC overcome some terrible field conditions and a less than stellar team performance to earn a 2-2 draw against New York City FC

“(MVP) is one of the goals I have,” Vela said on Sunday. “Obviously, the number of goals is different (than that of reigning MVP and MLS goal record-holder Josef Martinez) because I’m not a striker, but I’m always trying to help my team with assists, goals, good play. I think that’s the way I can compete for MVP and every week I want to show that.”

Vela finished as an MVP finalist a year ago, losing out to Martinez and his league-record 31 goals, but as good a season as he had, there was still a sense that he could have done more. 

“Obviously, knowing myself I know I could have done more (in 2018), and this year I’m convinced it’s going to be better,” Vela said. “In terms of the collective, being eliminated at home in the first round (of the playoffs) was a tough blow. We have to improve on last year’s season. We have a good team and the weapons to go farther and hopefully we can do that.”

Bradley challenged several of his best players to improve on their 2018 performances, including Vela, and the LAFC coach sees a player in Vela who has worked to improve on some of the things Bradley saw as needing to get better.

“Carlos is such an important player, and what I really like is in certain situations he’s on the move more,” Bradley said. “Last year there were times, especially in the second half of the year, where he would come back and he wouldn’t play simple enough and he would end up just wrestling with defenders and wasting energy far away from the goal. 

“As a team, I think we’ve improved in the way we move the ball,” Bradley said. “Our attacking ideas get better and then we’re able to get him the ball more on the move. He also makes better decisions when it’s not the right time to try to dribble. For me, those are positives.”

“I think he’s accepting more responsibility to be the guy who creates, be the guy who scores, and being a little bit selfish at times when he needs to be,” LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman told Goal. “I think today, you could just see with his reaction, we gave up the first goal and for him to be just super aggressive. The only thing on his mind when that ball was played through was ‘I need to score this goal’."

Vela nearly opened the scoring in the 29th minute, forcing a good save by Sean Johnson. When Alexandru Mitrita opened the scoring for NYCFC, Vela needed just four minutes to respond, running on to an excellent pass from Latif Blessing before he used his deadly left foot to slip a shot past Johnson.

NYCFC re-took the lead in the second half, but Vela responded again, laying off a pass to Blessing, who was subsequently brought down in the penalty area. Vela converted the penalty for his third goal of the season.

Despite his good form to start the season, Vela was left off of Mexico’s most recent squad for its upcoming matches against Chile and Paraguay.

“When I’m there, they kill me. When I’m out they want me there,” Vela quipped when asked about his absence from the team, but he sounded like a player who didn’t mind staying with his club team through the upcoming international fixture dates, even it means having to wait to work with new Mexico boss Tata Martino.

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“I’m really happy focusing on my team, trying to play well every weekend, and then sending good luck for all the players that are in the (Mexico) squad,” Vela said. “I hope they will take the chance and do well. Of course I always want Mexico to win.”

For now, Vela is focused on LAFC, and trying to lead the second-year team to a new level. The early returns are positive, with his squad currently 2-0-1 after three matches against 2018 playoff teams. He is determined to keep improving, and heeding the advice of his head coach, who has challenged him to step up to the challenge of being the best player in MLS.

“It’s part of improving every day, being willing to be receptive of the people who know and see things from the outside that you might not notice in the inside,” Vela said. “I don’t have any problem with people correcting me and telling me how I can be better. That’s part of my work and what is helping me have a good level every week because I have the desire to get better and desire to help my team succeed.”

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