Armchair Analyst: In Carlos Vela, LAFC find the right foundational piece

The biggest name to come to MLS during the 2017 summer transfer window thus far, and likely for the duration of the whole thing, will not play an MLS minute this year. Sure, Carlos Vela's impending arrival at LAFC was confirmed by the team on Wednesday, but I already trusted it was going to happen, considering this source:

Vela is an on-again off-again star for the Mexico national team and a legend with Real Sociedad, where he has 72 goals and 44 assists across all competitions since 2011. He had 11g/10a with Arsenal in sporadic minutes before moving to Spain. This guy has done some stuff on some pretty big stages, including the 2009 Gold Cup final in which he, at age 20, single-handedly murdered the USMNT defense in the second half. Vela flipped a switch and turned a tight, scoreless tussle into an irresistible El Tri win.

I was there. It was awful. He was great.

Vela will turn 29 next March 1, which means he has a few years of his prime left. I'm sure LAFC brass and head coach Bob Bradley – who was calling the shots for the US in that 2009 Gold Cup final, and I'm sure remembers it quite well – will be looking at him as a foundational piece for a half-decade, and believe they've found themselves a guy who can win games on the field (he has Best XI talent) and sell tickets off the field (after a rocky first half of this decade, El Tri fans have finally fallen in love with Vela). It is a smart signing, the most logical and aggressive one the team could have made once Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was off the market.

In part that's because of all of the above, but in part it's because of Vela's flexibility. He's spent most of his club career on the right wing, in order for him to be inverted and have a path directly toward goal. But he's also very comfortable as a playmaking second forward, out on the left wing, or even as a sort of False 9. Thus, Bradley – never one to shy away from an experimental lineup if he thinks it's necessary – has the luxury of building around a star attacker who can plausibly be used in a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2, a 3-5-2 or even a 3-4-3.

Vela, when he's engaged, is a player without constraints. But that's a real caveat, because Vela has not always been one who's "dedicated to the game," so to speak. A co-worker just sent me an email listing the pros and cons of signing him, and there was only one CON: Is he actually interested in playing soccer?

The fact that he's been so successful when that's a question people – especially Mexico national team fans – legitimately ask about him should tell you all you need to know about his talent. It will be up to Bradley and the rest of the folks involved with LAFC to make sure that his talent is what defines his time in MLS.

If they get that right, then Vela was a great first "big" signing for next year's newcomers specifically because there's not a "well, if we sign him we have to go get a specific type of player who does X, Y or Z next" modifier that needs to be addressed. You can play him next to a target forward, or underneath a channel-running Chicharito type, or out on either wing. LAFC will build around Vela, to be sure, but they're not locked into how they have to do it. They just have to make sure he's as up for the challenge as everyone else will be.


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