LAFC's Carlos Vela meets the media during first day of preseason
Courtesy of LAFC

Carlos Vela, LAFC's other World Cup hopefuls see benefits to MLS calendar

LOS ANGELES – Since moving to LAFC from Real Sociedad, Carlos Vela has been asked one question more than any other.

What does his move to MLS mean for his role with the Mexican national team at the World Cup?

While most of El Tri’s player pool are playing in Mexico and European leagues on a fall-to-spring calendar, Vela, his MLS-based countrymen like the LA Galaxy’s Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos and other Russia 2018 hopefuls will be in midseason form when the summer tournament arrives. Vela hopes it can help him arrive in Russia with fresher legs than most of his compatriots.

“I think we [MLS players] are fresh,” Vela told an ESPN panel during MLS media day last month when asked about it. “We can be in the World Cup during my best moment of the season.”

His teammate and fellow World Cup veteran Laurent Ciman echoes that mindset.

“It’s more advantageous for us,” LAFC’s Belgian international said through a translator when asked about his new teammate’s comments. “We are only going to play for three months before the World Cup.”

Ciman, who was part of Belgium’s squad four years ago in Brazil, was playing for Standard Liege at the time of the 2014 tournament.

Omar Gaber and Carlos Vela at training | LAFC

“European players have been playing for about eight months before the World Cup,” said the veteran defender, who’s optimistic of being selected by Belgian manager Roberto Martinez for a Russia 2018 call-up. “Of course [MLS players] will be in better shape.”

He’s not Vela’s only teammate to back up the Mexican’s assertion about the schedule being a factor.

“I think he’s got a valid point there,” 2017 MLS Cup-winning defender Steven Beitashour added. “The timing of the tournament suits the players in MLS.”

The American-born Beitashour was part of Iran’s 2014 World Cup squad when he was playing for Vancouver. He was one of 22 MLS players to take part in that tournament, which tied for ninth-most overall among leagues around the world.

Despite not being a part of Iran’s qualifying campaign, Beitashour has remained in close contact with Iran’s management and believes the MLS schedule could boost his chances for a 2018 call-up.

“You got a couple months to prepare, get fit, and get good form, then you’re going off to your national team for the pre-camp for the World Cup,” he said. “Hopefully by then you’re flying.”

Fitness is an issue national teams the world over face, but crowded European match calendars are such a major concern that national federations have pleaded with clubs to rest World Cup-bound players, as Argentine federation president Claudio Tapia asked of FC Barcelona in the case of Lionel Messi.

“[At Real Sociedad] I’d have played more games and I’d have been playing in the Europa League,” Vela said. “With so many competitions, at the end of the season you feel over-saturated with football.”

LAFC in a preseason workout | LAFC

He believes there is more to it than mere physical exhaustion.

“Right now, we’re really great physically," Vela said after training this week, ahead of LAFC’s trip to Sacramento for the team’s fourth and final preseason match. “But for me a long rest is important because our minds and our bodies are ready. We have more desire to play and more desire to work hard.”

Around 30 MLS players appear to be in contention for places in Russia 2018, with every MLS team boasting between six (Chicago) and 19 (Vancouver) capped international players in their ranks.

Along with Vela, Ciman and Beitashour, a strong start to the MLS season could see other LAFC hopefuls like Costa Rican Marcos Ureña, Uruguayan Diego Rossi and Egyptian Omar Gaber boost their chances for a World Cup roster slot.

“MLS is very strong now and most players want to play in MLS,” Gaber, who is on loan from Swiss giant FC Basel, said. “I think Carlos is correct. The league will start in 10-12 days, so it’s a very good opportunity for the national players.”

Gaber said if his loan went well, he’d be eager to make his move to LAFC a permanent one, believing MLS helps rather than hurts his World Cup aspirations overall when compared with the demands of Europe.

“For us in the MLS, it’s the reverse,” said Vela, who’s spent more than a decade playing the unrelenting schedules of Europe’s top leagues. “We have the desire for more games and we’re eager to demonstrate how well we can play.”