Carlos Vela scores a hat trick in season opener, but will his LAFC career continue?

LAFC's Carlos Vela chases the ball during the first half of a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids.
LAFC’s Carlos Vela chases the ball during the first half of a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday. Vela scored all three of LAFC’s goals.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The clock could strike midnight on Carlos Vela’s MLS career in June. That’s when his contract with LAFC runs out, and unless he and the team agree to a new one, the ball will be over for the former league MVP and the face of the franchise.

“You know how sports are. It’s a business too,” Vela said. “Who knows where I can be in six months? So I live in the present.”

So does the team. Because after watching Vela struggle through two injury-plagued seasons in which he missed more games than he played, LAFC general manager John Thorrington has shown little urgency to get a new deal done.


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That could change after Saturday’s season opener, in which Vela proved both his fitness and form by scoring three times in 21 minutes of a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. Attendance was announced at 22,010, although there were wide swaths of empty seats in the sun-splashed second deck on a picture-perfect afternoon at Banc of California Stadium.

After the busiest winter in the franchise’s brief history, LAFC opened the season with a new coach in Steve Cherundolo, nine new players and half a dozen starters who weren’t with the team at the start of last season. All six made their presence felt as LAFC opened the season with a win for the fifth time in as many tries.

“It’s important to start with a win,” Cherundolo said after his first MLS victory. “But this is one of hopefully many. This is just the beginning of our journey.

“So forget this as fast as we can and move on to the next one.”

Goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who posted a shutout in his first LAFC appearance, agreed.

“It’s just one game out of 34,” he said “You’ve got to keep focusing on what’s in front. It’s a long run.”

How long they’ll be running with Vela is anyone’s guess. But as long as he’s on the field, it’s clear Cherundolo’s new-look offense with run through the team’s oldest player.

One of only two holdovers from LAFC’s first season in 2018, Vela gave the team its first goal of 2022 in the 29th minute on a penalty kick, awarded when Colorado’s Lalas Abubakar was called for a handball on the edge of the 18-yard box. Vela stutter-stepped slowly to the ball, then buried a low left-footed shot into the right corner.


He doubled the lead with a fast-break goal six minutes later, chesting down a José Cifuentes through ball from the Colorado half, then holding off Abubakar to beat Rapids’ keeper William Yarbrough with a right-footed shot from near the spot where he converted the penalty try.

LAFC fans celebrate a goal by Carlos Vela during the first half against Colorado on Saturday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Vela completed his third MLS hat track and first since 2019 five minutes into the second half, sending a left-footed shot from the top of the box into side netting at the far post.

The three goals are just two shy of his total from all of last season, and the 86 minutes he spent on the field and his game-high five shots — four on target — were his best marks in all three categories since mid-August.

“I’m super happy for Carlos,” Crepeau said. “We all know that injuries for professional sports, it can hit you. The way he responds, that’s the type of person that he is. He deserves this.”

The day wasn’t just about Vela though. A defense that was porous at times last season gave up only seven shots, with just one getting through to Crepeau. On the other end, LAFC tested Yarbrough seven times.


“Everybody was a contributor today,” Cherundolo said. “That’s key for this group moving forward. I’m very happy with the start. It’s for us important to solidify and to confirm the work we’ve been doing with three points.”

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Or one point for each Vela goal. Whether that’s enough to keep the league’s best-paid player in an LAFC uniform through the summer depends on Thorrington. The general manager did a remarkable job putting the new roster puzzle together during the offseason; the challenge now is keeping the biggest piece of that puzzle in place through the regular season.

“It’s not in my hands. I’m waiting for the offer from the club,” said Vela, who turns 33 on Tuesday. “If they don’t give a good [offer], I know this is business and we will move forward.

“It’s nothing to be worried about.”

If you’re Thorrington and Cherundolo, it is.