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Re-signed Carlos Vela, LAFC ready to resume title pursuit

Addressing the Supporters’ Shield leaders midway through the Major League Soccer season, John Thorrington took note of the locker room’s reaction to his long-awaited news.

Carlos Vela, Los Angeles Football Club’s leading man since its inception in 2018, would remain in Black & Gold through the end of the 2023 season, the club’s co-president and head of soccer operations told the team on Monday.

Four days before the 33-year-old Mexican forward was slated for free agency, confirmation of the signing evoked a standing ovation from his teammates.

“I think that says a lot about who Carlos is as a player and also as a person,” said Thorrington, who shared the revealing moment during a press conference on Tuesday.

Vela’s extension comes on the heels of LAFC signing former Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale and former Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini to Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) deals as the club loads up to chase a title. Both of them should be eligible to play next week.

Over 118 matches in all competitions, Vela has 73 goals – including a league-record 34 goals in 31 games in 2019 – and 44 assists for LAFC. This year the club’s first designated player has contributed to 10 of its league-leading 32 goals, topping his teammates with six finishes and four assists while playing in all but one of their 16 matches.

When the ball is at his feet, there is no mistaking Vela for anything but elite. Beyond that, Thorrington described Vela as often misunderstood and shunned portrayals of him as difficult to deal with. Not once has Vela asked for special treatment and, generally speaking, the “best player we’ve had in our history,” the one with the megawatt smile and movie star hair, is “really likable” and carries himself like “one of the guys.”

Dating to the club’s expansion year, only midfielder Latif Blessing has been on the roster as long as Vela. Diego Palacios, Brian Rodriguez and Eddie Segura joined the following season, making five players from that Supporters’ Shield-winning group who were in the room when Thorrington spoke.

No one else wearing an LAFC jersey, including several key offseason additions, was here to witness Vela’s 2019 MLS MVP and single-season goal-scoring record performance, but they didn’t have to grasp what “El Rey” means to their chances of winning.

For defender Ryan Hollingshead this sentiment carries an added weight as FC Dallas (7-4-5, 26 points), his former team for the past eight years, visits Banc of California Stadium on Wednesday night occupying fourth place in the Western Conference, seven points behind LAFC (10-3-3, 33 points).

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