Vela trophy kiss

LOS ANGELES – Carlos Vela, subbed out in the 97th minute for stoppage-time hero Gareth Bale, was left watching from the sidelines.

Let’s just say LAFC’s captain experienced a rollercoaster-like spectrum of emotions in Saturday’s MLS Cup 2022 battle.

“​​To be quick and simple, for 10 minutes, 15, it was like a Halloween movie,” Vela said in the press conference room at Banc of California Stadium. “And then we finished with a Hollywood movie, like dreaming things, like something you can't imagine can happen, can happen.

“In my head was something like that, changing one movie to another or the second.”

Vela’s analogy was spot-on following arguably the greatest title game in league history, a 3-3 draw that pushed into penalty kicks and saw the Black & Gold get a 3-0 edge from the spot to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.

And while Vela didn’t beat Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, his stamp was all over LAFC completing the first MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double since Toronto FC in 2017. He was a decoy on Kellyn Acosta’s free-kick opener, and whipped in the corner kick Jesus Murillo headed home as regulation time wound down.

Yet when two extra-time goals were scored and backup goalkeeper John McCarthy became the man of the hour – winning MLS Cup 2022 MVP presented by Audi honors for some PK heroics – Vela found himself wanting in.

“When you are outside, you have more time to think, more things are coming in your head, like why I'm not there, I can't help my team,” Vela said. “They need me, and I can go to take a penalty, put me in again.

“Many things have happened, but in the end when it worked, my team did it. It made me feel so proud because in the end, we say like this year, we have a really, really good team. It's not about the 11 that start. It's like a really good team. Like anybody can come and make the difference.”

That lasting impression comes in contrast to some of Vela’s past LAFC seasons, he said, meaning they’re deep enough to withstand him not being on the pitch.

“Other years, maybe I feel like if I'm not good, the team is not that good,” Vela said. “This year was like I would do my best for 60 minutes, 90 minutes and the guys coming maybe can do better than me.

“I think it was that different between other years and this one, and we get the reward.”

Vela was LAFC’s inaugural Designated Player, joining the club in 2017 on a transfer from LaLiga side Real Sociedad before their expansion journey began in 2019. He’s their cornerstone signing, a 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP winner they’ve built around.

Over the summer, it was uncertain if Vela would even be around for this moment. The 33-year-old’s contract was expiring, but he eventually re-signed as a DP through the 2023 campaign in late June.

By the sounds of it, the former Mexican international doesn’t want to go anywhere anytime soon.

“Well, I think in my soonest future maybe go to Vegas or something like that,” Vela said. “I'm feeling good, so maybe I can win some money or something.

“And after that, for sure, I want to still be here. I want to enjoy the [Concacaf] Champions League, the new [Leagues] Cup is coming, and win more. When you get a trophy, you want more. Maybe it's selfish, say, how cool it is.”

Might Vela, who’s spoken at length about wanting to accomplish something special with LAFC, even retire in the Black & Gold colors one day? That seems a realistic possibility.

“I want to take some time to rest, but I want to come back, and I want to do better because this is special, the first one,” Vela said. “But if you get more, you can say, okay, I can retire now.

“So maybe one more, two more and I retire. So take me for a couple of years.”

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