Thursday, June 20, 2024

LAFC’s Carlos Vela eager for upcoming chance to recharge

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LOS ANGELES — Images of Lionel Messi grocery shopping at a Publix in South Florida on Thursday made the rounds online, generating headlines, trending topics and bemusement.

Carlos Vela had not heard that the world’s most famous and regaled soccer player, a former competitor in Spain, went out for provisions in Miami – next week Messi officially joins the city’s Major League Soccer franchise, Inter Miami FC – before being asked about it the next day.

“What’s this?” Vela said as he saw the Argentine World Cup champion pushing a shopping cart containing sugary cereals among other things. “Crazy, uh?”

The Fruit Loopiest part wasn’t Messi’s preferences in the cereal aisle – he has three sons.

To Vela, it was that Messi made the trek at all.

A smile glided across the Los Angeles Football Club captain’s generally upbeat face as he thought of Messi contemplating such a thing in Barcelona, Paris or Buenos Aires.

“To have that chance – or at least to think to do that – I don’t think he tried that in 20 years,” Vela said.

“That’s cool.”

Orders of magnitude less prominent than Messi, Vela has also been a news generator and, at times, a target of public and media scrutiny.

Successes and setbacks in England, Spain and with the Mexican national team brought the natural goal scorer enough attention over his career to want to be a “regular person” as he moved to the U.S. in 2018.

“When I came here it was one of the reasons,” he said after seven years with Real Sociedad, where he was among the best forwards in La Liga not named Messi or Ronaldo. “Sometimes people forget that you are a regular person. We want to be like that. The simple things. The small things make life easy, make life nice.”

Laidback Los Angeles gave Vela what he craved, and to a degree, he expects the same for Messi in Miami.

“It will be something for sure he will have here,” Vela said. “More quality life. Of course, he is still Messi and wherever he goes people will bother him. But not as much like if he’s in Europe or Argentina. For sure that part he will enjoy.”

While the soccer-watching world gazes at Messi buying cereal or scoring goals for Miami when the Leagues Cup begins on July 21, Vela intends to recharge as far away from soccer as he can.

Following Saturday’s match at 10th-place Minnesota (7-8-6, 27 points), LAFC (10-6-6, 36 points) won’t play until Aug. 2.

The team is off entirely through the 24th of July, making the most of a 17-day bye into the Leagues Cup knockout stage that it earned by winning the MLS Cup title last year.

Denis Bouanga and Ryan Hollingshead will represent LAFC at the MLS All-Star Game on July 19 in Washington D.C., an event Vela is missing for the first time.

“Honestly,” Vela said, “I will take my break really well, so I am happy with that part.”

Building on a strong preseason conditioning regimen, Vela, 34, has been a consistent performer in his sixth season with the Black & Gold.

Appearing in 30 of 33 matches across all competitions with seven goals and six assists in league play, Vela’s considerable talent showed with a pair of scoring contributions during Wednesday’s shutout over St. Louis, which brought LAFC within two points of first place in the Western Conference.

“There are very few players in this league, and Carlos is one of them, who at any moment in the game can contribute with an assist or a goal, first touch or run,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “He just has that special quality that not many players have, maybe around the world.”

Seven years older than Vela was at the time the Mexican first wore the MLS crest, no player, arguably ever, is regarded as more special than Messi.

“He has to figure it out for what’s best for him, for his family,” Vela said of the soccer superstar. “And for sure he will do good things for Miami, for this league, for his life.”

LAFC AT MINNESOTA

When: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. PT

Where: Allianz Field, Saint Paul, Minn.

TV/Radio: Apple TV+ – MLS Season Pass/710 AM, 980 AM

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