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LAFC’s Carlos Vela back at practice, might play off bench

Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela raises a hand in celebration.
Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela might be available off the bench for Sunday’s game in Seattle.
(Patrick T. Fallon /For The Times)

LAFC coach Bob Bradley had some good news and some bad news to report on Carlos Vela on Friday.

The good news is Vela has returned to practice and might be available off the bench for Sunday’s game on the artificial turf in Seattle. The bad news is Vela, who injured his right quadriceps midway through the first half of the season opener, won’t start for a fourth straight week. That is likely to have a significant impact on LAFC’s chances against the Sounders, the only unbeaten team in the Western Conference.

Diego Rossi is expected to play Saturday for LAFC vs. Houston, but Carlos Vela won’t. Will the 2019 Golden Boot winner remain with team beyond 2021?

“He has trained this week, it’s been up another notch, which is great,” Bradley said of his captain. “He is a possibility for some minutes on Sunday night.”

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Testing Vela’s balky leg on the hard turf in Seattle would be risky, but LAFC struggles without him.

Vela set the MLS single-season scoring record in 2019, when he won the league’s most valuable player award. But a torn ligament in his left knee last year and this season’s quadriceps issue have limited him to just five regular-season starts since then, and LAFC has gone 8-8-5 in games he either missed or played in as a substitute.

The team has played 94 regular-season games in its history and Vela has not started in more than a third of them. LAFC is 34-10-18 when he starts and 13-12-7 when he doesn’t. Another loss Sunday — combined with wins Saturday by Portland and Minnesota United — would drop LAFC into the Western Conference cellar for the first time.

“He’s a very, very important player for us,” midfielder Eduard Atuesta said in Spanish.

“As our leader, obviously we miss him a lot — especially at the start of the season we’re trying to find a rhythm. We hope that he’s back to 100% soon. But in the meantime, we have to look for results.”

The top-scoring team in the league over the last three seasons, LAFC has five goals in four games without Vela this year.

LAFC’s superstar Carlos Vela answers questions from L.A. Times soccer writer Kevin Baxter in a rare one-on-interview with the former MLS most valuable player.

LAFC, which will fly to Seattle on Sunday morning, has struggled against the Sounders (4-0-1), especially on the road. It has lost four straight at Lumen Field, including last fall’s playoff game. The teams played to a 1-1 draw last month at Banc of California Stadium.

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The Sounders will be without goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who was injured late in Wednesday’s win in San Jose. Frei leads MLS with three shutouts and has given up just two goals in five games.


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