The preliminary roster Mexican coach Tata Martino called up Tuesday for next month’s Gold Cup was more notable for the players excluded than for the ones included.
No Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who will become a first-time father this summer. No Hector Herrera, who begged out following an exhausting season with his club team in Portugal.
And no Carlos Vela, the LAFC captain who is arguably in the best form of any player in the Mexican national team pool.
“I spoke with Tata. We had a long conversation,” Vela, speaking in Spanish, said after training Wednesday. “And there were two fundamental things: the first one is family, where I have priorities and I will not give details. And the other is I’ve had my chances, my opportunities with the national team and nothing extraordinary happened. Now it’s time to give other players an opportunity; young players who for sure will be in the next World Cup.
“I’m not asking that people congratulate me or understand my decision. I just think they should respect it.”
The chief beneficiary of that decision is Vela’s wife, Saioa, and the couple’s 2-year-old son Romeo. But close behind is LAFC, which goes into the game with FC Dallas at Banc of California Stadium on Thursday knowing it won’t lose the MLS’ leading scorer for a month this summer.
“Carlos is an incredible player,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said of Vela, whose 12 goals in as many games is three better than anyone else in MLS. “He has really taken responsibility as a leader in the right way. He’s not the most vocal guy but he gets along with this teammates and his standard of play just sets the bar so high for everybody.
“For us, he’s important. You can check out any good team, any sport, when the best players set the tone, that goes a long way toward being successful.”
LAFC (8-1-3) certainly has been successful. Bradley’s team leads the Supporter’s Shield race with 27 points, is first in MLS in wins and goals (29), and its goal differential of 21 is 10 better than the next-best team.
It’s also unbeaten in its last 12 regular-season games at home. That too is a league best.
But Vela said the team isn’t so good that it can afford to relax after its quick start.
“We know this season is long. We have to keep working, thinking that we can improve,” he said. “I put pressure on myself because I want to be the best player. I want to be the best leader. So I wake up every morning and I come here like, ‘Oh, I have to improve.’ I have a lot of things to improve.”
In FC Dallas (5-4-2), LAFC will be facing a team that has lost two in a row and is winless in its last three, scoring just twice in those three matches. After the game Thursday, the teams will fly to Dallas for a rematch Sunday, marking the second time this season LAFC has played back-to-back games against the same conference opponent.
“In MLS, there’s always something strange happening,” Vela said with a smile. “But it’s the same for everyone. Dallas has the same problem we do. So there are no excuses.”