Who else but LAFC’s Carlos Vela? After collecting three MLS Player of the Month accolades, the 2019 Supporters’ Shield and smashing the single-season goalscoring record, the 30-year-old Mexican was officially handed the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award this season.
Vela can now say that he’s the best in MLS, but what about in all of North America’s top leagues? Does his record-breaking season mean he stands above any star that Liga MX has to offer?
When looking south of the border, there are a few heavy-hitters that can challenge him for that position. The first name that immediately comes to mind is Tigres’ Andre-Pierre Gignac. The French striker, who scored 11 goals this season, is arguably the most talented player in Liga MX.
Looking at the very top of Mexico’s goalscoring table, Necaxa’s Mauro Quiroga is also worthy of recognition. Thanks to his league-leading 12 goals alongside Chivas’ Alan Pulido, the Argentine has been able to help Necaxa maintain a top-four position for most of the 2019 Apertura. Other honorable mentions such as Santos Laguna’s Julio Furch, Pulido and San Luis’ Nicolas Ibañez aren’t too far behind.
All that said, looking at goals scored is too simple of a rubric. What truly separates Vela from the rest of his North American peers is something that isn’t brought up enough: Assists. As an unselfish focal point in the attack, the Mexican regularly showcased an extremely high level of chemistry within the dynamic LAFC frontline. Along with his 34 goals in 31 MLS regular-season matches, the winger also amassed an impressive tally of 15 assists during that run. That’s a role in 49 goals over 31 matches for LAFC in 2019. Vela alone had a hand in more goals than seven MLS teams scored this year.
Vela’s lethal combination of world-class ball-handling, playmaking, speed and finishing are difficult to find in other Liga MX and MLS options. The only other Liga MX player who has come close to providing the same kind of well-roundedness in the final third this season is Santos Laguna’s Brian Lozano. As a pacey dribbler with an eye for accurate short passes and shots from distance, the Uruguayan 25-year-old has been brilliant in the 2019 Apertura through his eight goals and six assists. Lozano undoubtedly comes close, but it’s still too early to say that he has been as illustrious or dominant as MLS’s leading goalscorer.
And yet, regardless of what Vela has accomplished with LAFC, he still maintains a complicated relationship with the Mexican soccer world. A long history of animosity with the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has led to numerous call-up absences and ensuing questions from fans who are confused by his indifference toward the national team. Other El Tri supporters, who have yet to get over him leaving Europe and moving to MLS at the very peak of his career, have ignored him altogether after he left La Liga’s Real Sociedad.
But even if some fans aren’t giving him the attention he deserves, that hasn’t stopped the MLS superstar from stealing the media spotlight back home.
"Historic," read one headline from ESTO after he broke the goal-scoring record. "New King," said another from CANCHA. It isn’t too difficult to find other examples either of Vela earning plaudits from Mexican sports papers. One article from Milenio last month even went as far as making the assertion that Vela has been better than Gignac, who has been widely-recognized as Liga MX’s best striker in recent years.
Although some Liga MX talents come close in comparison — and although some Mexican soccer fans aren’t thinking twice about it — there is a strong argument that MLS’s latest MVP is also the best from North America’s top leagues.
The Matchday Central crew continue the debate in the video below -- Is Carlos Vela the greatest player in all of North America?: