Carlos Vela’s short romance with Barcelona was a little like a computer-dating relationship: The two checked out each other’s profiles, exchanged a few messages, then broke things off before the first date.
“It didn’t happen and it’s no problem,” said Vela, who will remain with the Los Angeles Football Club rather than returning to Spain. “I’m really well here and I don’t want to leave L.A. I’m happy.”
So is LAFC, who saw Vela score a pair of first-half goals Thursday in a 4-1 win over Japan’s Vissel Kobe in a preseason exhibition before a chilled crowd announced at 18,100 at Banc of California Stadium.
Vela put LAFC in front to stay in the 33rd minute, taking a feed from Latif Blessing in space on the right wing, dribbling into the penalty area, then bending a left-foot shot around goalkeeper Daiya Maekawa and into the net at the far corner.
He scored again just before halftime, accepting the ball from midfielder Lee Nguyen, losing defender Hirotaka Mita with his first touch and driving a low shot just inside the far post.
That gave Vela a hand in four of LAFC’s first five goals in the team’s two preseason games. And he’s only played 90 minutes.
Second-half substitute Dejan Jakovic made the score 3-0 in the 72nd minute, nodding home a long free kick from Peter-Lee Vassell. Kevin Mendoza closed the scoring 14 minutes later with a brilliant individual effort that ended with him slotting home a shot from just outside the six-yard box.
If Vela was in midseason form, Vissel Kobe and its stable of World Cup winners, who are holding their preseason training camp in the U.S. for the first time, was not. Although world champions Andres Iniesta and David Villa of Spain and Germany’s Lukas Podolski were on the field together for the first hour, Vissel Kobe didn’t manage a shot on goal against a makeshift LAFC defense until three minutes after its three stars had been subbed off.
LAFC fielded a back line that included forward Shaft Brewer at outside back because all four of its projected defensive starters were missing. Steven Beitashour was out after his wife, Karlie, gave birth to the couple’s first child this week; Walker Zimmerman is away with the national team; and Mohamed El-Munir and Danilo Silva just started training.
Yet Vissel rarely threatened before Ryo Hatsuse lined a free kick past LAFC keeper Tyler Miller in the 81st minute for his team’s lone goal.
Before the game LAFC introduced its most recent acquisition, forward Rodolfo “Fito” Zelaya, who joined MLS on a two-year deal.
Zelaya is an iconic player in El Salvador, where his 21 international goals in 44 games are the second-most in national team history. He also led San Salvador’s Alianza FC to four league titles from 2014-18, scoring 82 times in 178 matches. And with LAFC playing on the edge of the Pico-Union, a densely population neighborhood that is the heart of Southern California’s large Salvadoran community, Zelaya’s signing could boost the team both on and off the field.
“I feel like I’m at home. There are a lot of Salvadorans that will support me and support the team,” Zelaya, who has several family members living in Los Angeles, said in Spanish.
LAFC is among the most diverse teams in MLS, with 16 nationalities represented on its training camp roster. General manager John Thorrington said that’s not a coincidence.
“The goal of this club, the promise we made to this community, was that we wanted to unite the world’s city through the world’s game,” he said. “We are absolutely intentional about this city and our community seeing themselves represented on the field. Fito is certainly another example of that.”