LOS ANGELES — LAFC only needed 11 minutes of earth-scorching soccer to beat defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United Friday night at Banc of California Stadium.
The first half blitz came after LAFC conceded an early goal and demonstrated why the squad remains the favorite to lift the Supporters’ Shield and perhaps MLS Cup 2019 along with it.
Several of the Black-and-Gold’s key players involved in that spellbinding 4-goals-in-11-minute period will be heading to Orlando this week for the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target: goal-scorer Diego Rossi, midfield maestro Mark-Anthony Kaye, and center back stalwart Walker Zimmerman.
But it will be LAFC captain Carlos Vela, whose play unhinged Atlanta’s defense and who scored a spot kick, who will lead his teammates and the rest of the MLS All-Stars against Atlético Madrid as captain after winning a vote for the armband earlier this week.
“First I have to say thank you to all the fans who voted me to be captain,” Vela told reporters after LAFC's 4-3 win over the Five Stripes. “It’s a pleasure.”
The Mexican’s 22 goals in 21 league matches this season — and 24 in 24 across all competitions — have him on pace to break the record Josef Martinez, his opponent Friday night, set just last year with 31 MLS goals. LAFC have 12 games left for Vela to collect the 10 goals he needs to set a new single-season mark.
Vela was asked how it felt to be the highest scoring player from his country to ever play in MLS and responded much the same way he has to questions about individual records all season.
“The truth is that this objective we set out is to be able to really win a title,” the MVP candidate said in Spanish, discussing the individual and team responsibilities to shoot for positive things. “Obviously I am not satisfied, I want to continue ascending more. I want more, and hopefully I can continue along this path.”
Vela will be captaining the All-Star team for the second straight season, beating out Orlando City FC's Nani, D.C. United's Wayne Rooney, and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski, the career MLS goal leader.
“I hope they can enjoy the game and we can bring a good show for them,” Vela said about the matchup with Atlético, a foe he played many times over his seven-year stint in La Liga.
The midweek All-Star fixture comes at a testing time in LAFC’s history-chasing season — they are still on track to set points, wins, goals scored, and goal differential all-time season marks — before they travel to New England Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada) to face Bruce Arena’s Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
“You have to step up and we did it,” Vela said. “We did a great job. We have to keep working. We’re in the hardest part of the season and have to finish strong. We want to be first [place] and if we want to finish first then we have to win our remaining games.”