Carlos Vela - LAFC - press conference - wearing VELA shirt

LOS ANGELES – When Arsene Wenger signed Carlos Vela from Chivas Guadalajara to Arsenal back in 2005, the Mexican was just 16 years old. The youngster left Mexico after leading El Tri’s youth team to their first U-17 World Cup title with a tournament-high five goals. Vela spent the next twelve years in Europe, plying his trade in England and Spain.

It’s the continent where he refined his game. It’s where he became an adult. It’s where he had his first child.

Surely, Carlos Vela must miss Europe, at least little bit?

“The truth?” he responded with a wry smile. “No.”

Vela officially joined LAFC on January 1 after signing with the expansion side last summer. He’s been in the city just short of two months.

“I’m happy here,” Vela said, in an exclusive with “I think I’ll live here for many years in the United States and in Los Angeles. I’m enjoying everything.”

Vela notched his first two goals for LAFC a little over a week ago in a 4-4 preseason draw with Vancouver.

The first goal was a deftly swung free kick — the type of quality, raw-talent finish that recruited him away from North America all those years ago. The second, a penalty, was taken with all the veteran coolness a decade in Europe ingrained in him.

While he doesn’t miss the old world, he says his Spanish girlfriend and young son do.

“For them it’s a little more complicated because they’ve always lived in Spain with their family and friends,” Vela explained. “Now, coming here and along with the language issue, it’s more complicated. You don’t know a lot of people.”

Vela isn’t worried about his family making friends and he sees the unfamiliarity as an upside to the move to a major city.

“I think it’s an important change because in Europe all the cities are a lot smaller, practically everyone knows everyone and everywhere.”

San Sebastian, where his previous club Real Sociedad was based, has a metropolitan area population 30 times smaller than that of Los Angeles.

“[In LA] there are a lot of places to get to know, a lot of restaurants, a lot of options for performances,” he said. “I think it’s a lot more fun.”

Vela made it clear that LA's myriad cultural offerings were a factor in his decision to sign with LAFC. Before scoring his brace against Vancouver, Vela was in downtown Los Angeles, where he professed his love for Team LeBron during NBA All-Star weekend.

“There are a lot of possibilities to enjoy your life outside of work,” he said. “In the end, players are people and we enjoy these kinds of things too.”

Even for a reluctant newcomer like his girlfriend, the city has a lot to offer in that regard.

“We really enjoy going to Santa Monica and Malibu because my girlfriend loves the beach,” he said, mentioning they haven’t quite nailed down which neighborhood they want to call home just yet. “I really like West Hollywood, it’s where I’m living now. Near there you’ve got Melrose, The Grove, and Beverly Center. As my family adjusts to life here at the moment, we’re enjoying wandering around there.”

While Vela enjoys the city’s considerable Mexican heritage, neighborhoods like West Hollywood and experiences like the All-Star Game in Downtown — where Banc of California Stadium is also being built — have reminded him about the diversity on offer.

“Those kinds of things are great about Los Angeles. It’s a city with a lot of love and a lot of individualism. Of course, film and music too. You’ll never get full of it because there are always different people who are much different than you.”

And while Vela is certainly a recognizable face for many Angelenos, he delights in being able to blend in when he's out and about.

“We enjoy is the ability to go out without being bothered constantly for photos and being allowed to enjoy the quiet times.”

When asked about some of the potential downsides of living in the US and playing in MLS, like the foreboding weather he might face in upcoming trips to Sacramento, Seattle, and Salt Lake City, or the distance the team will sometimes have to travel for games, Vela remained bullish on his new situation.

“The team prepares for the league and the competition,” he said. “Once we know all of the teams, there is no excuse.”

He may be a veteran, but Vela's new surroundings seem to have brought back some of the youthful exuberance in the forward.

“I’m used to everything. Nothing is a problem.”