LAFC captain Carlos Vela had the most prolific season in MLS history in 2019, scoring a single-season record 34 goals and adding 15 assists. He also took a league-leading 160 shots, putting 71 of those on target; both numbers rank among the top five all-time. And the two-time Mexican World Cup player did all that despite missing 2½ games late in the season with a strained hamstring.
The exploits of Vela, 30, helped LAFC (21-4-9) finish the regular season with the league’s best record and the best points total (72) in MLS history, earning it a first-round bye in the single-elimination playoff tournament and home-field advantage through the MLS Cup, if the team makes it that far. Some of those goals were highlight-reel worthy; here are five of his best:
5. Vela appeared to toy with the Sporting Kansas City defense — especially center back Matt Besler — on this early July goal. After a turnover deep in the Kansas City end, Diego Rossi found Vela with plenty of space on the right wing. Vela then cut back to the center of the pitch before driving a left-footed shot between two defenders for the third LAFC goal in a 5-1 road win.
4. Vela relied on his brains more than anything else to score his 16th goal of the season, anticipating a poor pass from Portland keeper Jeff Attinella and jumping in front of it, then taking the ball back the other way. Vela dribbled along deep into the box before beating Attiinella with a left-footed shot from the edge of the six-yard box for the first score in a 3-2 road win in June.
3. Midfielder Eduard Atuesta set Vela up for the second goal of a late April brace against Seattle, leading him with a low pass just as Vela began his run between the last two Sounder defenders. Vela then rounded keeper Stephen Frei, leaving him with an open net to shoot at.
2. Vela victimized San Jose goalie Daniel Vega for his second-best goal of the season, finishing a hat trick in a 5-0 early season rout on the road by curling a long left-footed kick just under the crossbar at the far post.
1. With LAFC leading San Jose late in the first half of a mid-August home match, Vela stepped around a pass to Rossi, then waited for Rossi to send the ball on to him as he dashed up the center of the pitch. Next he avoided a sliding defender, stepped around another inside the box, deked Vega to the ground then dribbled around him and when Nick Lima slid in front of the net in Vega’s place, Vela calmly walked the ball a few steps along the goal line before using his left foot to poke the ball behind Lima at the near post.
“One really special goal,” his coach, Bob Bradley, said.