LOS ANGELES – With the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs set to begin this week, players bound for the postseason across the league prepare for a “second season” after the usual 34-match March-to-October campaign.
“It’s fun for the fans, for sure, and for the players too,” he told reporters last week, noting that it was a different situation from what he experienced after more than a decade playing in England and Spain, where league titles are decided simply by points totals at the end of a season.
But for Vela personally, the format doesn’t change his attitude toward the matches themselves.
“In the end, it’s just a game. It’s football. We have to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s playoff or regular season, I want to win all the games. I always go inside the pitch with the same mentality and the important thing is to be ready, 100 percent physically and mentally, to fight and give everything for the team.”
What has changed for Vela is that this “second season” has necessitated a “second preseason” in the run-up.
“It’s a long season,” the Mexican international explained. “After the World Cup, I was not at my best level. I was still playing and trying my best but I was not fresh to do the things I usually do. it was a hard moment to pass but now I feel really well because we did a second preseason to be ready for playoffs.”
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Confirming that this “second preseason” was a new idea to him, the LAFC playmaker elaborated on how the club staggered his return to league play following his country’s exit from the World Cup — Vela played a full 90 minutes in Mexico’s round of 16 tie against Brazil in Samara, Russia before coming on as a substitute for LAFC’s victory against Orlando City only 5 days later.
“Normally, when you play in the World Cup, you have a break. I decided to come here, to still train to help my team, so Bob [Bradley, LAFC's head coach] said to me, ‘Okay, you can be part of the team but you have to get a couple of days off.’ I didn’t play in Minnesota so I missed a couple of training sessions because Bob said it’s important to be fresh in the playoff period.”
The LAFC captain said he trusts that his coach’s reasoning was correct and feels he can now show his best level as his club’s first-ever postseason game beckons on Thursday, when they host Real Salt Lake in the Knockout Round (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2).
The first-year squad’s MLS veterans have also helped Vela, Diego Rossi, Andre Horta and other newcomers know what to expect now that the postseason has arrived, and Vela singled out midfielder Benny Feilhaber as particularly helpful.
“[Benny] is an important player for us, an experienced guy with a lot of quality. He always tries to help the teammates. He always tries to transmit his experience to the rest. In this part of the season and, of course, in playoffs, that kind of player can be really important for us because they know how we have to play those couple of games.”
In Vela’s eyes the playoffs are an opportunity to for the city’s newest club to join the ranks of other famous and successful postseason franchises in Los Angeles.
“This city wants to be in the best levels for all sports,” he said. “LA is one of the biggest cities in America so we have to show how good we are, how much we can give to the fans, I hope the fans can be excited like we are in the end.”