LOS ANGELES – Carlos Vela was introduced as the first Designated Player of LAFC Friday morning at the California Science Center, next to the site where the club’s future home, Banc of California Stadium, is under construction, and the new arrival is already settling into his new city.
“That you for making me feel like I’m home,” Vela said.
At 28, the Mexican international is in the prime of his career. Deployed both as a striker and an attacking midfielder, Vela averaged 10 goals per year over his six seasons at Spanish side Real Sociedad, playing against some of the world's best teams and players. Before La Real, he spent several seasons under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship at Arsenal.
“When I saw the news that LA is starting a new team, I called my agent and said, ‘I want to go there,’” Vela said. “But in my dreams, of course.”
With other MLS clubs making inquiries in the past, Vela discussed a move to Los Angeles with an El Tri teammate, Giovani dos Santos, who moved to the LA Galaxy in 2015 and welcomed brother Jonathan dos Santos to the same crosstown rivals of LAFC last month.
“Seriously, we started to talk three or four weeks ago,” Vela said about the negotiations with LAFC, which began before Bob Bradley was announced as manager late last month. “When [those conversations] happened, I said of course and now I’m here. So my dreams are coming true.”
His European experience, including scoring goals in the Champions League, led to increased demand for his services across the continent.
“One in Spain, one in Italy, one in England, and one in Germany also,” Vela said of clubs who made contact about signing him this summer. He also spoke with Mexican clubs, though none ever entered into formal negotiations for the player. The Cancun native came out of the Chivas de Guadalajara youth academy, but never played a first-team game in Liga MX.
Vela will be competing for his place in the Mexican national team for the World Cup in Russia next summer. In a World Cup qualifier against the United States at the Azteca Stadium in June, Vela earned a draw for El Tri when he surged past DaMarcus Beasley and beat Brad Guzan at the near post.
“It’s a big day for me,” Vela said. “I’m the first player on this team. There is a lot of responsibility to be the first.”
He will begin the season on loan, continuing at Real Sociedad, who begin their La Liga campaign at Celta Vigo a week from Sunday. Vela will then return to LAFC in January to prepare for the club’s inaugural season.