Contact Form

    News Details

    LAFC season preview: No holding back, with or without Carlos Vela
    • February 23, 2024

    The Los Angeles Football Club has won each of its six Major League Soccer season openers.

    Making it seven in a row would not only break Dallas’ MLS record set from 2012-017, it would require something the club hasn’t dealt with before: not having Carlos Vela on the field.

    Months after LAFC’s first face of the franchise walked off a soggy pitch in Columbus, Ohio, with his teammates having fallen short of repeating as MLS Cup champions, the soon-to-be 35-year-old forward’s presence remains prominent inside the locker room despite his absence through the preseason and, now, Match Day 1 at BMO Stadium against the Seattle Sounders.

    As the organization and free-agent star continue to negotiate terms for what the silky left-footed Mexican declared would be his final season no matter where it takes place, LAFC’s longtime captain remains present one way or another.

    “We’ve been in touch with him,” Spanish midfielder Ilie Sanchez said prior to his third season wearing black and gold. “He’s been asking about the dynamic of the preseason, so obviously it’s been different because you don’t have him on the field, but we still have his things in the locker room.”

    If the parties don’t agree and Vela’s belongings are eventually removed from the LAFC practice facility on the campus of Cal State L.A., it will reverberate in several ways.

    In 2023, Vela appeared in all 34 MLS regular-season games for the first time, tallying nine goals and 12 assists in league play while his attacking partner, Denis Bouanga, romped to claim the Golden Boot.

    Minus Vela, who has contributed to more than a third of the goals scored by LAFC since 2018, opposing teams, starting with the Sounders, are likely to key in on stopping Bouanga.

    “There is also other players who can make the difference,” the 29-year-old French attacker said. “But the foot of Carlos is going to be missed on the field, for sure.”

    LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo, who signed a multi-year extension in December, will have to compete with a roster that played half the MLS minutes from last year’s team that set a league record for total games played across a variety of competitions.

    Even that deep squad had to alter its tactics to survive the 53-game marathon, at times moving away from the aggressive game model that has been basic to LAFC’s approach since 2018 to a more pragmatic style favoring a low block and counterattacks.

    The 2024 group received an injection of youthful talent, including Mexican fullback Omar Campos, who is expected to play significant minutes while replacing Ecuador’s Diego Palacios, and coveted Venezuelan winger David Martinez, who was set to arrive Thursday in L.A.

    For the newcomers who have not played with Vela, his impact should still be felt around the club whether he returns or not.

    “Carlos was a big proponent of the winning culture,” fullback Ryan Hollingshead said. “The laughter. The camaraderie. The leadership. So much starts with Carlos.”

    With Vela’s unknown status for 2024 hanging over the club, other players have stepped in to fill his leadership void. LAFC brought in World Cup-winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, whose résumé speaks for itself. Meanwhile, familiar faces like Hollingshead, Sanchez, Bouanga, Aaron Long and Jesus Murillo said they have accepted the responsibility to fill the void.

    Beginning Jan. 21, when LAFC’s preseason got underway, the coaching staff focused on reviving the club’s heavy press, which caused massive disruptions for opponents when it was employed effectively and the players had the legs to execute.

    Said Hollingshead: “This year will be a lot more getting back to LAFC style of football, playing the way we want to play, having plenty of recovery in between matches to make sure when we are in the pitch we are playing everything we want to do at 100%, no holding back, which was not what happened last year.”

    The pared-down schedule – no CONCACAF Champions Cup, Campeones Cup and potentially no U.S. Open Cup – is favorable through mid-May, when games will come Saturday to Saturday.

    First off: Seattle.

    The last time they met, LAFC defeated the Sounders, 1-0, at Lumen Field on a Bouanga screamer to advance to the Western Conference final.

    Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer made sure to remind his players of the gut punch they took in November after they arrived for the first day of preseason camp.

    Related Articles

    Los Angeles Football Club |

    MLS season could start with replacement officials after union rejects latest proposal

    Los Angeles Football Club |

    LAFC goalkeeper Hugo Lloris embracing his next chapter

    Los Angeles Football Club |

    LAFC announces the return of midfielder Eduard Atuesta

    Los Angeles Football Club |

    LAFC signs 17-year-old prospect David Martinez

    Los Angeles Football Club |

    LAFC signs Colombian forward Tomás Ángel

    “That goal is still sticking with me and I’m reminding the guys of that opportunity that we lost,” Schmetzer said, “and yes it’s a rivalry.”

    Cherundolo agreed, describing the LAFC-Seattle dynamic, which began on opening day in 2018 with a Black & Gold victory in the Pacific Northwest, as a “super healthy rivalry.”

    “They want to beat the team that beat them at home in the playoffs last year,” Cherundolo added. “So I understand their motivation. My players will understand that as well and we will have answers.”

    Without Vela, they won’t have a choice but to step up.


    When: Saturday, 1:45 p.m.

    Where: BMO Stadium

    TV/radio: Apple TV+ (MLS Season Pass), Fox (Ch. 11), 710 AM ESPN

    ​ Orange County Register