Coming off the bench as a second-half substitute, the former Mexican international scored a 90th-minute game-winner that sealed the Black & Gold’s 2-1 come-from-behind victory at Sporting Kansas City – their first three points in almost a month, ending a four-game shutout streak in all competitions.
That late-May triumph from the 2022 MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double winners, against the San Jose Earthquakes, was followed by their painful loss to Liga MX’s Club León in the Concacaf Champions League final.
Vela received some criticism for his performances over the two-legged series, which was compounded upon the club’s return to league action when he missed a penalty kick (after his initial effort blocked by Brad Guzan was ordered retaken) in a scoreless draw with Atlanta United. Two straight losses to the Houston Dynamo followed until Matchday 19’s get-right result.
“I think that after the loss in the [CCL] final, the negative streak that we were going through, we’d lost let’s say a little bit of confidence,” Vela said postgame. “Things weren’t going the way they usually do for this team.
“… To be able to help the team win is important and it’s something that will help us regain our level and our confidence.”
It’s hard to imagine a player of the stature of Vela – the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP with over a decade of experience in Europe – lacking confidence. But he was downright thrilled about netting the last-minute winner after Honduran defender Denil Maldonado canceled out Alan Pulido’s opening PK goal.
In fact, it’s moments like these that keep the 34-year-old veteran hungry for the thrill of competition.
“At this age, I always say you carry the end of your career more closer, so you have to enjoy every single minute,” Vela, whose Designated Player contract with LAFC runs through the 2023 season, said of his contribution off the bench.
“… A day like today, like you come in the second half, you can score the goal, it makes you feel like, ‘Ok, I can still play a couple of more years,'” he added before suggesting the thought of calling it a career may have passed through mind his in recent days.
“But, after you lose, you say, ‘Maybe I have to retire soon.' This changes a lot, but I’m enjoying. I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I enjoy what I am, and it’s important for me.”
Equally as important is getting LAFC to reclaim their red-hot form from early on in the season, which had fans and experts alike thinking of a possible treble in 2023.
Even with their US Open Cup elimination and CCL heartbreak, it's still technically within reach. With Leagues Cup on the horizon and an MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double repeat still within reach, results like Saturday’s are what can spur the club to win more silverware, according to head coach Steve Cherundolo.
“It means a great deal for the group. Obviously any time you come back, it’s big for the belief, especially after having a few games where you haven’t won,” the second-year manager said.
“Hopefully this will set us up for the next couple of games and weeks,” Cherundolo said.