Carlos Vela's impressive performance for LAFC goes for naught in derby loss

CARSON – The only thing that stood between Carlos Vela and a hat trick inside the first hour of the inaugural Battle of Los Angeles was LA Galaxy defender Daniel Steres.

When Steres knocked Marco Urena’s pass to Vela into his own net — and LAFC went up 3-0 all the same — few in the stadium could imagine what would happened next. 

Goals from Sebastian Lletget (61st minute) and Chris Pontius (73rd) came next, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic put in an equalizer and a game winner inside the final fifteen minutes to complete an improbable 4-3 comeback.

“When one doesn’t win, I can’t tell you that I’m happy or that I’m going home satisfied,” Vela said outside the visitors’ locker room after the game.

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Reporters tried to lighten the mood, bringing the conversation back to Vela’s stunning early performance where he scored a brace inside the first half hour. 

Vela’s opening goal was a sultry curler assisted by Steven Beitashour in the fifth minute. The second came after some hard work by Urena, who hung onto the ball through a challenge, then threaded a pass to Diego Rossi, who split a pair of defenders and found Vela. 

Galaxy keeper David Bingham scrambled on the ground to stop him — and so did several Galaxy defenders standing on the goal line – but the Mexican international cooly nicked the ball off the crossbar and it bounced in. 

“I think I started off well,” Vela said. “Trying to help the team like I always do.”

Inspired by Vela’s performance, his teammates attacked relentlessly. The visitors recorded five shots on target in the first 45, compared to zero for the Galaxy. 

Head coach Bob Bradley attributed a lot of that early success to Vela’s play, calling him “excellent” during that spell.

The opposite was true in the second period, where the Galaxy peppered Tyler Miller’s goal with six shots, to just one for LAFC.

 “Early in the second half they were man marking him,” Bradley said about what changed for Vela after halftime. “We were trying to find some ways that we could move the ball better and get him involved.” 

For a while they were able to do that, and perhaps Urena’s pass for Vela that resulted in the Steres own goal was one of few moments early in the second period where it wasn’t more of the same. In the dozen-odd minutes that followed, LAFC began to take the foot off the gas but not completely, according to Bradley.

“I still think in the second half after we scored the third goal, had we been sharper, we would have had more goals. 

In the end, Vela never got the chance to notch his first MLS hat trick, in front of Mexico national team head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, no less. His performance was overshadowed by the Galaxy’s latest superstar. Before going on hijack the spotlight from Vela, Ibrahimovic was whistled for a foul on LAFC’s talisman in the attacking third. 

The Swede kicked the ball at Vela afterward and shouted some choice words in his general direction. What was said in that moment wouldn’t even register as a footnote in the story by the time the game was over. Ibra’s performance spoke for itself.

As for Vela?

“What matters is the result.”