Carlos Vela opens up on playing in Los Angeles, his friend and rival Chicharito, and chasing a title with LAFC

As MLS All-Stars prepare for what should be an entertaining game against the best of Liga MX on Wednesday night, LAFC’s Carlos Vela sees this exhibition as an opportunity to showcase the best of both nations and their respective leagues. “I think it’s going to be an interesting match,” says Vela, speaking to ¡Qué Golazo! and CBS Sports, courtesy of BodyArmor’s One More campaign. “In the end, the rivalry between Mexico and the U.S and their leagues. – who’s better, who has the best players – hopefully will be a great spectacle, for the people to enjoy.”

As the Mexican star says, it’s a chance to celebrate but most importantly compete, because no matter what, Vela – the league’s MVP and Golden Boot winner in 2019  – is going all out against some of his compatriots and friends. “Me, at least, that’s what I always intend to do every time I enter the pitch and I will take it very seriously. I’ll try and score as many goals as possible. Whether it’s Memo [Ochoa] or anyone else on the other side, we’ll go with everything that we have. I love to score goals against Memito,” he says with a glint in his eye.   

Vela is the undoubted star of LAFC, a club which only began life in MLS in 2018. The energy of this team and their supporters is intoxicating. This is a club based in downtown Los Angeles, so the soul of this franchise is diverse. It has a powerful, engaging Mexican-American identity, clearly led by Vela, their first ever Designated Player singing. For him, to live in LA is a perfect way to enrich himself with his Mexican values. This may be America, but in Los Angeles as in the rest of the country, Mexico very much plays a leading role. 

“I’ve always said it’s something I am very grateful for. To be in a country that’s not your own but you still feel like it is yours is super important. Something that comforts you and makes you feel good, supported, ” says Vela. “But it’s also a responsibility. They’re there for the good times but there is also pressure. They want to see another compatriot giving it his all, doing the right things, scoring goals, elevating Mexico’s name and I know what that takes and I know the pressure that comes with it…and I like it. I take it with good stride and I use it as a way to not slack. Every day, I want to show I am the best, the best in the team, the best in the match, and in the process, earn the people’s respect and affection, and like I said, to give it everything. They can criticize me for anything else, but it can never be for not giving it your all.” 

This probably feels like an extensive message to the national team, as Vela hasn’t played for Mexico since the 2018 World Cup. But it’s important to remember that this is essentially Vela’s decision. After meeting with Tata Martino in 2019, the consensus was that Vela’s No. 1 priority was LAFC and his and his family’s happiness, and in these last few years – with everything that has happened as a result of the pandemic – this for Vela has never been more significant. 

“I am happy, enjoying what you can in life – with this virus – but healthy, which is the most important,” he says. “Now that normalcy has somewhat returned, things are better. I think we all felt frustrated, closed in without being able to do anything, obviously knowing that it was important for everyone’s health and well being, but now on a comeback. The family, friends are healthy, happy and obviously enjoying being able to play with fans, with all who support us and being able to give them a little bit of happiness.”

In terms of LAFC, the ultimate goal remains of course, to win the MLS Cup. As a player, there are no shortages of goal scoring records or highlights for the 32-year-old striker, but for him, the ultimate objective is still up for grabs. 

“As you mentioned before, I have won individual awards, but in the end, this is a team sport,” he says. “It’s a sport where the only thing that matters is taking your team to the highest levels. To be champion, this is the thing that’s missing, I need to get it and I won’t stop until I get it.”

This season has been a challenge to find rhythm and with 14 matches left in the regular season, they remain on the outside of the playoff picture looking in after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Vancouver. The stretch after the All-Star break is key if they are to reach the postseason and find the pace to make a deep run. And LAFC’s next match is a big one, El Trafico, Sunday against crosstown rivals LA Galaxy.

Before going up against his friend, Galaxy striker Chicharito, however, first he’ll partner up with him on Wednesday. So is he excited to play with him once again?

“We have a great relationship. Even though we play for rival teams here in LA, the history that we have together is bigger than any rivalry we might have,” says Vela. “We have known each other since Chivas, since the early setups, the national team, the World Cup. Everything I tell you about him will be good, and obviously, anytime I have the chance to play with him, I enjoy it. He’s a great player, a great person and a great friend and I always wish the best for him.”

Like Chicharito, Vela is a marketing dream for the game in North America and that’s why BodyArmor was smart enough to work with him. Earlier this year, their “One More” campaign featured Vela next to James Harden, Naomi Osaka, Mookie Betts, Sabrina Ionescu, Baker Mayfield, Trae Young and Christian McCaffrey. He’s the only MLS player in the campaign.

In the end, Vela wants to win and make LAFC feel proud about the project and the All-Star game, hosted by Banc of California stadium, is also a great way to show how passionate the city is about the game. For him, LAFC’s supporters are the key ingredient.

“It’s special. The passion and unconditional support – whether we’re winning, losing, tying – they’re always singing, jumping until the final moment,” reflects Vela. “That’s something we’re very grateful for, and that’s an extra motivation, playing at home with those fans to give extra and to give – as I told you – offer a good show, because they deserve it.”

Let’s hope for Vela, LAFC and a significant part of Los Angeles, that the end product is MLS silverware.

You can watch the whole episode of my chat with Carlos Vela below and for more interviews make sure to check out¡Qué Golazo!’s YouTube channel.  

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