After all, he was the first player acquired ahead of their expansion season. He is their foundation and captain during a start matched by few in league expansion history. For some fans, he is LAFC.
But executive vice president of soccer operations and general manager John Thorrington would tell you his most important acquisition is actually the man coaching Vela.
“Some teams have [Designated Players like] the Carlos Velas, and I thank our ownership for that, but every team has these other players," Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com earlier this month. "The rare skill that Bob [Bradley] has is getting the most out of the top end guys as well as educating the players across our roster. It’s a unique skill that we are benefitting from and will continue as we start bringing in more academy players. Usually, it’s an either/or in terms of managing stars vs. developing young talent and Bob, as he’s shown throughout his career, has the ability to do both.”
That ability to do both is why LAFC are leading the Supporters' Shield race, blitzing teams with imperious panache.
It's the unheralded signings Thorrington has made, the ones that, theoretically, any team could have made. Mark-Anthony Kaye, Tyler Miller, Eduard Atuesta and so many other players seemingly playing to the peak of their abilities at LAFC fall under that category.
But by bringing on Bradley, Thorrington was also commiting to a co-operative organizational approach, with the aim of squeezing every ounce of talent out of each signing, and obviating risk as much as possible in the transfer market. It's an approach that flows through the team's scouts, academy, sports scientists and everywhere else in its soccer operations.
“Our collaborative process and internal conversations about player identification and recruitment is not siloed," Thorrington said. "The benefit of having Bob, myself, our scouts, our data analysts and everybody involved in conversations, everybody sheds lights on these guys in different ways. Bob’s experience in knowing what he wants, us understanding what will work with him, identifying the guys then the recruitment of bringing them in is the last step."
LAFC seem to have manufactured their own recipe — specific to their club, market and budget — with the aim of making the inexact science of player acquisition something closer to formulaic.
In Bradley's well-defined tactical enterprise, every position has certain skills required, narrowing the scouts' search. The sports science staff and physical trainers do their part, while Bradley and his staff get to do what they do best: cultivate and improve soccer players.
“As you can see with how we play, there is a specificity of what we ask players per position that is very tightly profiled to our scouts for what we’re looking for then there’s a collaborative process that goes through various stages," Thorrington explained. "You don’t get everything and everybody right, but, it increases the probability of bringing in the right guys. The Mark-Anthony Kaye stories are a testament to our everyday training environment. Yes, we speak about bringing the right raw material, but what I think is a huge advantage is our staff.”
They haven't gotten everything right, but as much as they could have reasonably expected has worked out, from Day 1.
Vela was the club's first signing ("I can play alone if you want," he joked in August of 2017, and with the form he's in, he might not be wrong.) After Vela, from Diego Rossi, to Walker Zimmerman, Miller, Steven Beitashour and the rest, LAFC filled the necessary roles on their inaugural roster with a conversion rate that would make even Adama Diomande raise an eyebrow.
“The challenge and importance of getting our first group right usually that means you’ll have that group for a long time," Thorrington said. "Other teams probably have 30 percent of their roster turning over every offseason. We were different because we had first-year MLS players on longer-term deals. The importance of getting all those decisions right compounds over time. We certainly were diligent in getting that group right.”
Continuity plus depth; That was the plan this offseason.
Aim to hold your core — despite interest abroad in Vela and Zimmerman the team's cornerstones from 2018 remained intact — and accentuate the roster. Eddie Segura is the only winter acquisition to make more than one start so far this season.
“The language was continuity plus depth," Thorrington said. "The benefits we would gain from, what I would say, our freshmen being sophomores — the specificity of what our staff asks of the players and our game model, etc., they’re now a year on in their education from that. You see that in the continuity. Then adding some depth pieces to push and challenge the group in ways that wasn’t necessarily there to the same extent last year.”
Chasing continuity, LAFC didn't need to recruit many players. After being the epicenter of the MLS offseason ahead of their inaugural MLS campaign, Thorrington was expecting a bit more free time in his second offseason.
He didn't quite get it.
“I was going in expecting to relatively have a bit more breathing room but, candidly, I underestimated the busyness of the offseason," Thorrington said. "When I spoke to my colleagues who have done this far longer than I have, they laughed and said ‘well, that’s your inexperience talking.' ... I wouldn’t say [I expected to be] bored, but, relatively, you could say that it was different. Obviously we were sprinting for so long to put the team together, but if I’m honest, I actually underestimated how busy this offseason would be."
Thorrington pointed to negotiations, be it contract or transfer, that soaked up increased time this winter. It's something he'll have to get used to, because as they continue to strive for collaborative success, his phone won't stop ringing.