After much hemming and hawing, uncertainty and inquiries, long-reported news became official on Tuesday afternoon: Carlos Vela isn’t going anywhere.
LAFC’s captain has re-signed as a Designated Player through the 2023 MLS season, a formal announcement that arrived two days before his current deal was set to expire. And just like that, one of the biggest storylines from the first half of the 2022 MLS campaign was put to bed.
It turns out matters were largely settled many fortnights ago, even as Vela cast varying degrees of doubt in postgame press conferences, all as LAFC surged into the early Supporters’ Shield lead and he became their leading scorer.
“The heavy lifting of the negotiation was done probably two months ago, and the rest of the time has been done ironing out minor details [that] I never thought would get in the way of the deal,” said LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington. “Obviously any negotiation that you go through, there are typically a lot of ups and downs and it's a non-linear process. But that wasn't the case here.
“As soon as we knew he wanted to stay, we wanted him to stay, then it just took a bit of time to iron out the details. In full transparency, the contract was only signed basically the day before we announced it. But for all intents and purposes, it was done.”
Vela, the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP and LAFC’s first-ever signing before their 2018 expansion season, will now remain with the Black & Gold for at least six seasons in total. Thorrington said the forward’s future at Banc of California Stadium could extend “maybe beyond” the current terms, and Vela seemed similarly open-minded while reaffirming his desire to win silverware.
“As you know, I'm really happy to be still here, to be part of this because when I joined this club from the first day, one of the main goals was come to LA, enjoy LA, make LA enjoy my football – and the most important, win trophies for this club,” Vela said. “In this part, I'm still thinking we can do better. We are in a good way, but we never end that job.
“I'm still here and I want to win with [LAFC]. I think it's one of the main reasons I want to still [continue] in this club and I want to work really hard to bring that trophy to this club and enjoy, I hope, until the end of my career here.”
Vela’s new deal keeps him with LAFC through his age-34 campaign, and the Mexican superstar re-ups amid a high-profile two-week period on the transfer front. They’ve just brought in former Real Madrid star forward Gareth Bale and legendary Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini on Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) deals, keeping open a Designated Player spot alongside Vela and forward Brian Rodriguez as the MLS Secondary Transfer Window arrives (runs July 7 to Aug. 4).
At least on paper, LAFC are creating arguably the best starting XI in MLS history, following a domestic-heavy offseason roster infusion that was highlighted by goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, defender Ryan Hollingshead, midfielder Kellyn Acosta, midfielder Ilie Sanchez and more arriving via trades or free agency.
As for what comes next?
“It would be smart to add an attacking piece to this,” said first-year head coach Steve Cherundolo. “I think a well-rounded attacker is certainly somebody who knows where the goal is, but who can also run and be very mobile.”
If that’s accomplished, they’d augment Vela’s 102 combined goals and assists (63 goals; 39 assists) in 101 regular-season matches for LAFC since he closed the book a half-decade ago on a European career that was highlighted by time at LaLiga’s Real Sociedad and Premier League powerhouse Arsenal.
Given that production, and the leader Vela’s become, his teammates met the extension news with open arms.
“When I announced to the group that Carlos had extended, it was like a standing ovation,” Thorrington said. “I think that says a lot about who Carlos is as a player and also as a person.”
Consider it a small moment that reaffirms Vela’s place in LAFC’s history, his adopted city and MLS’s growing fabric.
“When you see the teammates reacting well, it's something that made me proud because it [feels like] I'm doing well, my stuff outside the field,” said Vela, the owner of a league record-breaking 49 combined goals and assists in 2019. “Inside we can talk about that, some days better than others. But when outside you are good, you are a good leader, you are a good teammate, it makes me proud about how I am as a person.”
Now, all parties involved are gearing up for what they hope is the brightest chapter yet of Vela’s LAFC career.
“He's been an extremely important part of this club for a long time and he will continue to do that,” Cherundolo said. “We got a happy ending here. We are a Disneyland town, so it's only fitting that we got a happy ending as well.”