The Carlos Vela dilemma is real

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
Multiple reports have indicated that LAFC's Carlos Vela, now a free agent, is set to join San Jose Earthquakes in a move that will shake up the California soccer landscape.

“In the end, the important thing is that you decide where you will be happy and where you can do well, to show that as well as being footballers, we are people.” ~Carlos Vela

According to multiple reports, Carlos Vela is set to make move to San Jose Earthquakes which would mean he will be their third Designated Player alongside Cristian Espinoza and Carlos Gruezo in the midfield.

Carlos Vela was LAFC’s first. Their first player signed, their first Designated Player, their first MLS MVP, and their first Golden Boot winner. Yet, as the 2023 season wound down, his time with LAFC was unforgivingly running out as a season that began with beautiful memories of a MLS Cup victory speech in which the 6-year captain declared his intention of winning multiple trophies, but ended empty-handed with three tournament final defeats. In 2023, Vela notched 9 goals and assisted in 13 for his club, but it was a far cry from his emblematic 2019 season.

And, when the 2024 MLS Season started a week ago, with LAFC’s 2019 MVP still uncommitted to a place with his team, a new reality began to dawn, perhaps he was not returning. Thus, after six seasons with LAFC throughout which he scored 93 goals, including setting a league-record 34 goals (10 assists), on the morning of his 35th birthday, he was a free agent, and the talk of him joining a different California club caught social media fire with rumors of his move to the San Jose Earthquakes floating from one corner of the globe to the other.

Last weekend, LAFC’s Aaron Long explained to media that Vela’s items are still in his locker. And towards the beginning of February, Denís Bouanga (who matched Vela’s season record last year) spoke out to voice his support of his teammate on social media.

Carlos Vela saw LAFC through it all – the highs of an expansion club’s inaugural season that reshaped the way MLS clubs brand their clubs, infiltrating into the fabric of the Los Angeles community seamlessly, leading them with his golden boot winning 2019 season, earning the Supporters Shield in that same season, the lows of an injury-riddled season that saw his playing time cut, a pandemic, then helping lead the club to their first MLS Cup and a second Supporters Shield in 2022, and the disappointing 2023 season of grueling scheduling and travel. Last season brought numerous references by Vela to not taking any and all playing time for granted. “At this age, I always say you carry the end of your career more closer, so you have to enjoy every single minute,” he reflected last summer after the team suffered a debilitating loss in the CCL final.

Speaking last September, LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo was unwaveringly positive in his praise for Vela. “His touches and his passes are very effective. We all know his quality and how he controls games. Sometimes he speeds the game up and sometimes he slows it down. He knows how to use space and we depend a lot on what he does. He’s the catalyst for the team in defense and attack for us.”

It’s a mental task to imagine an El Tráfico without the rivalry match’s highest-scoring player who has made an MLS career out of his ability to get underneath the defensive skin of LAFC’s biggest rival, LA Galaxy. But, Vela’s made it clear his priorities are family first, and soccer follows. He will do what he has to do in order to do his best for his family. If that means leaving the club that has become synonymous with his name, there’s no doubt he will.  “I love to go on the field, and I want to score 100 goals every game, if I can. But it’s also my job, and when I finish my job, I have a life. I have a family,” Vela, speaking about maintaining a healthy work-life balance. No matter what, one thing is for sure – if he leaves, Los Angeles will miss that left foot. Take a bow, Carlos Vela.