Can Carlos Vela's return propel LAFC over the playoff line?

Carlos Vela

LAFC are running out of time to get above the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line, but superstar forward Carlos Vela is almost back to help the cause.

Head coach Bob Bradley was pleased to announce that Vela and midfielder Eduard Atuesta have returned to light training over October's international break, but was quick to caution that neither are in full training.

"I guess that would make them questionable for Saturday against San Jose," Bradley told media about their upcoming match at Banc of California Stadium (3:30 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter). He later added that it is "unlikely" either would be able to start but hopes both will be available off the bench.

Atuesta was removed after 63 minutes in their last game on October 4, while Vela has missed the Black & Gold's last eight games with a hamstring injury. He missed three games at the beginning of the season with a different injury as well.

LAFC seemingly have been waiting to play their strongest lineup for the better part of two seasons. Vela missed a ton of time in 2020, then ahead of the playoffs, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez were out due to COVID-19 protocols. This year, Rossi has been loaned to Fenerbahce, Mark-Anthony Kaye got traded to the Colorado Rapids and Eddie Segura is out for the season with an ACL tear.

“It’s part of the challenge," Bradley admitted. "We’ve dealt with the inconsistency in lineups in some ways for 14 or 15 months."

Still, despite the issues, they're not out of the playoff race. They sit in ninth place, four points behind the playoff line. The Quakes, their Week 30 opponent, are one point behind LAFC and are similarly chasing a Western Conference postseason leap.

The underlying numbers actually suggest LAFC have been incredibly unlucky this year. They've racked up 52.95 xG but scored 40 goals, underperforming xG by 12.95 – easily the worst mark in MLS. They've posted 31.43 xGA but have conceded 41 goals, underperforming that mark by 9.57. That's also the worst margin in MLS.

"I don’t think any of us expected to be where we are after 28 games," Bradley said. "We still push, create chances and make it hard for the opponent but for different reasons, we haven’t taken the points."

Vela coming back should help correct some attacking efficiency. The Landon Donovan 2019 MLS MVP has shown flashes of full form in the limited training he's been in.

“It’s great to have him back," Bradley said. "He brings football, he brings his way of seeing certain plays, seeing certain passes and finishing great goals. The final part of being a little more dynamic, we’re trying to work through that part. But it’s very positive to see him back on the field.”