MLS is Back: Carlos Vela absence tells the whole story

MLS, LAFC, Carlos Vela (Photo by Michael Janosz/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
MLS, LAFC, Carlos Vela (Photo by Michael Janosz/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

Carlos Vela will reportedly miss the MLS is Back Tournament due to concerns regarding the coronavirus as his partner is pregnant. His absence tells the whole story regarding the validity and morality of the competition.

The MLS is Back Tournament is a week away. It sees the return of Major League Soccer after a near four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus. During that time, commissioner Don Garber has worked immensely hard to find a way to get the league playing once again. As he said himself, the league lost $1 billion in revenue. It needs a way to recoup some of that cash.

Given the extensive circumstances, Garber has had to get creative. He will send all 26 times to Disney World Resort in Florida. The teams will isolate in a league-wide bubble, before playing all their matches at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. ESPN, not coincidentally, is owned by Disney, has haemorrhaged revenues due to a lack of live sport, and is one the chief broadcasters for MLS.

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There are plenty of problems with the competition. From the lack of sporting integrity to the morality of holding a behind-closed-doors tournament in a state that is spiralling out of control with regards to its coronavirus response, the idea is like a sinking ship and only heading one way. And this week, the league received damning news that helps perfectly sum up everything wrong with the competition: its best and most popular player will not participate.

According to Jeff Carlisle of ESPN, Carlos Vela is leaning towards abstaining from participating in MLS is Back. The report claims that Vela has not entirely made up his mind but is most likely to remain in Los Angeles with his pregnant partner. Concerns regarding the coronavirus, as well as the fact that families and partners cannot travel with the players and are not included in the MLS bubble are said to be the motivating factors.

For LAFC and MLS, it is a massive commercial and footballing blow. Vela is the best player in the league, and by some distance. He plays for the best team in the league. He is the most recognisable player in the league and predominantly draws the largest viewing figures — this last point, of course, is most concerning for Garber and MLS, who are only putting this competition together to get as many eyes glued to the TV screens as possible.

His absence helps paint the entire picture. That Vela would rather abstain from the competition to remain with his pregnant partner outlines two key issues. The first is that no-one cares who wins the competition. Of course, LAFC play three group-stage matches that count towards the regular-season standings, but Vela might miss a regular-season match for his child’s birth anyway. If this was a World Cup, he would be there.

The second is the safety aspect. Vela is not necessarily unsure of MLS’ safety precautions. This seems to be a decision more motivated by his desire to remain with his family who cannot travel with him. But his staying home helps to outline just how ludicrous this tournament is. Not only does it not matter on a sporting level and has entirely undermined any semblance of competitive fairness or integrity; it is hosted in a state that is struggling to contain the virus and has been described by other players as a ‘luxurious prison’.

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The whole competition revolves around money. It is the only reason why it is being played. And Vela’s choosing to remain at home only helps to show just how shallow and contorted the league’s plans are.