No decision yet on whether Carlos Vela will return to LAFC lineup vs. Rapids

LAFC forward Carlos Vela, right, vies for the ball with Daniel Pereira Gil on April 17 at Banc of California Stadium.
LAFC forward Carlos Vela, right, vies for the ball with Austin FC midfielder Daniel Pereira Gil on April 17 at Banc of California Stadium.
(Associated Press)

Desperate times call for bold leadership. And these are certainly desperate times for LAFC.

But LAFC coach Bob Bradley, whose team is in the conference cellar for the first time, still wasn’t ready to go big Thursday and promise Carlos Vela would be back in his starting lineup Saturday against the surging Colorado Rapids.

“There is a real discussion of how to handle his minutes,” Bradley said of his captain, who played 20 minutes off the bench last week. “No decision has been made. But [he’s] making progress in training every week. You can see him pushing himself, so that’s very positive.”


A crowd of approximately 14,000, the largest for a soccer game in California in more than 14 months, is expected at Banc of California Stadium.

Vela came out of LAFC’s season opener in the 22nd minute with a quadriceps injury and hasn’t started since. Not coincidentally, LAFC (1-2-2) hasn’t won since.

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Without Vela, LAFC has stalled offensively, scoring three goals in four games and getting shut out last weekend for the first time in 20 matches in all competition. The team has also lost two in a row for just the fifth time ever.

“Any team that goes through a little bit of a tough stretch with results has to be strong,” Bradley said. “There’s a process to becoming a good team. And you understand results are so, so important. But the process has to include seeing the whole picture.”

Putting Vela back in the starting lineup could also help. The Mexican international started 57 of the first 68 games in franchise history, setting a single-season scoring record and winning an MVP award while leading the team to two playoffs berths and a Supporters’ Shield.

In the last two seasons he started just five times and the team has gone 8-9-5 when he hasn’t, finishing seventh in the table last year before dropping to last place in the 13-team conference this spring.

Playing far away from home on MLS and other U.S.-based teams can be a stressful experience for overseas soccer players not used to American culture.

With Vela, the league’s highest-paid player with guaranteed compensation of $6.3 million, LAFC plays a dynamic, attacking style out of a 4-3-3 formation. Bradley remains committed to what he calls “our style of football,” but it really hasn’t worked without Vela and Bradley Wright-Phillips, the veteran forward the team allowed to leave last fall. That’s especially true in the final third, where the decision-making has been poor and the confidence and chemistry lacking.

Diego Rossi, who picked up a lot of the slack left by Vela’s absence last season, leading the league with 14 goals and 34 shots on target, has dealt with an injury of his own this season. He has played just three times, scoring once and putting three shots on goal. Vela didn’t take a shot in his cameo in Seattle.

Colorado (3-1-1), meanwhile, comes in hot having won three in a row to claim a share of third place in the conference standings.