Week 1 MLS observations, from Carlos Vela to Chicarito
Everything Carlos Vela does or says this MLS season will be taken apart. (As if that weren’t already the case.) LAFC’s star and first-ever signing is at a crossroads with his contract expiring in June. He has publicly said he has a desire to return to Europe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready to end his run in Los Angeles.
One thing is certain: yesterday’s price is not today’s price.
Vela started the 2022 Major League Soccer season with a hat-trick in 50 minutes in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. It was the perfect start for new head coach Steve Cherundolo and LAFC 2.0 at Banc of California Stadium. “MVP” chants filled the air, igniting the emotions of Vela and LAFC’s record-breaking 2019 campaign.
But for every good moment he has over the next few months, the value will only increase. The dilemma for LAFC is that they don’t know what Vela will get if he can stay healthy and be at the top of his game. General Manager John Thorrington said contract talks are active and “gaining momentum”. Vela’s hat trick will speed this up even more.
Vela isn’t much of a talker when it comes to media, but he clearly presses LAFC and lets actions dictate his intentions. It’s a complex situation to be with a player of this caliber given the tumultuous past two seasons for him and the club.
New teammates Maxime Crepeau and Ilie Sanchez raved about playing with him rather than against him, how he can take over games in an instance, and his leadership skills. Those are positive signs for black and gold at the moment, but what happens when the first adversity hits? How are things changing for Vela and this contract situation? LAFC can’t risk waiting too long with his decision because he’ll either keep scoring and adding to his shares, or things can get messy on the other end of the spectrum. As much as he may be interested in winning the MLS Cup with this team, the thought of continuing doesn’t bother him in the least – and therein lies the danger.
“Of course, if it’s a good option for me, yes,” Vela said when asked about stepping down as an LAFC player. “But it’s not in my hands. I’m waiting for the club’s offer. So if they don’t do anything good, I know it’s business and we’ll move on. There is no need to worry, nobody will cry, nobody will die. If we’re going in the same direction, yes, I’m more than happy to be here, but when it’s ready, no problem.”
MLS Week 1 Notes
Chicharito to the rescue: The LA Galaxy’s home game was promising as Douglas Costa made his MLS debut while they hosted reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC. But the game was mostly tight and lacked flow, with not too many chances for either side.
It looked set to end in a disappointing stalemate until Raheem Edwards fired a clean ball into the box in the 90th minute. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez pulled off one of his classic penetrating runs, cutting back to avoid the sliding defender and shooting one past Sean Johnson.
Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney has praised his team’s offensive options this season, but what was most impressive was that they were solid enough defensively to keep a clean sheet, with some help from Jonathan Bond’s saves at the net.
“We played the best MLS team at our house last season, it was our home game and we won at the last minute, you know? So yes. The feelings are pretty positive,” Chicharito said after the game. “But as always, we have to turn the page tomorrow.”
CCL teams up and down week: Maybe this is the year? Four of the five MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League are in the quarter-finals.
NYCFC closed the deal with a 6-0 aggregate win over Costa Rica’s Santos de Guapiles. After a goalless first leg in Honduras, the Sounders hung five at home to Motagua to end promotion. Montreal, who lost 1-0 to Santos Laguna in Mexico, hit back with an impressive 3-0 win in Canada. The Rapids lost to Comunicaciones of Guatemala on penalties and were eliminated. The New England Revolution advanced automatically after their Haitian opponents Cavaly AS were forced to withdraw from the tournament due to visa issues.
That’s a good overall achievement on the international stage for the league, but these teams didn’t fare as well in Week 1 of MLS. The Rapids, Sounders Montreal and NYCFC were all ruled out. The Revs, the only team not to play, gave up a late lead in Portland to end in a tie.
No one is going to put the early part of the season ahead of CCL, but balance and depth of squads will certainly come into play going forward and that could hurt some of these teams a lot more than anticipated.
Cincy back to it again: It took a full two minutes for FC Cincinnati to make a defensive mistake and concede their first goal of 2022. They would go ahead and sacrifice four more en route to a 5-0 loss in Austin.
The worst thing is that none of this is surprising at all. Since joining MLS in 2019, Cincy has an overall record of 10-38-10 with 116 goals against. They’ve had four different head coaches, plus two interims in between. The club and then general manager Gerard Nijkamp parted ways last year. They finished last two seasons in the East and by the looks of it they’re aiming for a three-peat.
To put it simply: everything was a disaster. They have one of the most beautiful stadiums in the league and the fans are loyal, but things have to change drastically and quickly. Perhaps the jump from the second-rate United Soccer League to the MLS was just a little premature.
Atlanta a contender? 67,523 fans packed the Mercedes-Benz Stadium as Atlanta United defeated Sporting Kansas City 3-1. Throughout the 90 minutes, the Five Stripes were relentless in attack and drew the attention of the league.
Josef Martinez missed, but collected two assists. Dom Dwyer showed he can make a solid contribution in his first game with the club when he scored a highlight 20 minutes after coming on as a substitute from Luiz Araujo’s injury. Even homeland defender Caleb Wiley, 17, scored on his debut.
Week 1 is all about overreactions but Gonzalo Pineda’s side could have something to say in the race for the MLS Cup this season.