The MLS’s new goal king and leading MVP candidate — who’s two goals and an assist helped torpedo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the rest of the Carson faithful out of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs — gripped his fists and shook them in jubilation.
No, it wasn’t because LAFC had finally beat the Galaxy. In fact, there hasn’t been a moment this season where Black & Gold clad players or coaches have mentioned defeating their rivals as a goal of their second campaign. From the very beginning of 2019, all Vela and his record-setting compatriots have discussed is winning trophies.
“I want to win the MLS,” Vela told reporters after when asked about were his thoughts were at the final whistle. “So my mind was like, ‘we do one step more.’”
As big as Thursday’s victory is for the narrative of El Trafico and for LAFC supporters, it’s merely one game closer to MLS Cup for the Supporters' Shield winners.
“When you talk to everybody inside [the locker room], they are all focused already about the next game,” said Bob Bradley afterward.
After defeating a Galaxy team for the first time in five tries, LAFC will now face a team in the Seattle Sounders that they’ve never lost against, winning twice 1-0 in the Black & Gold’s inaugural season, and once this year — the fourth contest between the two Western Conference foes being a topsy-turvy draw at CenturyLink Field.
“Seattle, the first game last year was incredible,” said second-year man Tristan Blackmon, who played in LAFC’s very first contest last March as well as their first playoff win Thursday evening, keeping Ibrahimovic in check for the majority of the contest. “It’s going to be a tough matchup, we know what they’re like and we look forward to building on this match and looking at the things we did well and maybe didn’t do as well and we fix that for the next matchup.”
Playing for the first time in 18 days with their bye as the No. 1 seed in the west, Bradley and his players were quick to admit the moments where they could have been sharper in the win against their LA neighbors, leaving plenty of work to do in the short turnaround before Tuesday night’s Western Conference Final at the Banc.
“Yeah I’m a stickler with the football all the time,” said Bradley. “From a pure football standpoint, [tonight] wasn’t even close to our best.”
And Bradley knows that with the new single-elimination playoff format, Tuesday’s match might be wild in its own right.
“Seattle’s a good team and these playoff games and this format, man they’re crazy and so, we have to rebound quickly and we’ve done a good job of that this year. And I think leadership in the team, we always talk about Carlos [Vela] but guys like Steve Beitashour and Jordan [Harvey] and others the group has continued to develop in all those ways.”
For Vela, even with all the improvements left to make, Thursday’s win was mostly about advancing that much closer to the ultimate goal.
“We have to win two more games, we have to prepare our team to be ready to be focused on our target," he said. "That’s the way we are working, the way the philosophy of this club [is] and we focus on that. We focus on ourselves and that’s the way to be a good team, doesn’t matter the rest.”