LAFC: Diego Rossi, not Carlos Vela, the symbol of the future

MLS, LAFC, Diego Rossi (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MLS, LAFC, Diego Rossi (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Carlos Vela is the MLS MVP, the best player in the division, and the crucial piece in LAFC’s brilliant attacking team. And yet, Diego Rossi is the symbol of the future.

Carlos Vela was signed to be the face of the Los Angeles FC franchise. The Mexican has more than lived up to that title. He showed signs that he could be special in his first season with the team, notching 14 goals and nine assists in a little under 2,400 minutes. However, it was in his second season that he set both MLS and his team alight.

In a historic season of epic proportions, Vela won the league MVP award at a canter despite two other players scoring throughout the season at a goal-per-game rate. That is because he scored 34 goals in 2,723 minutes of action, an absolutely absurd figure. Even more impressively, he provided 10 assists, too, just three off the league-leader, FC Dallas’ Michael Barrios.

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When Vela announced that he would not travel to the MLS is Back Tournament with LAFC, therefore, questions abound regarding the team’s ability to compete without him. Yes, they won the Supporters’ Shield in the best MLS season of all time, but that was largely due to Vela’s own brilliance. How would they fare without him? Well, rather well, it seems.

LAFC’s ability to deal with Vela’s absence largely comes down to the form of Diego Rossi, who himself has been an elite MLS winger for the past two seasons — he provided 16 goals and six assists last year, an insane number that would have led almost every team in the league. In the three group games against Houston, the Galaxy and Portland, Rossi scored five goals, four of which came in El Trafico, and one assist. He has terrorised defences, played with searing speed and accuracy, and established himself as the most dangerous attacker in the entire league sans Vela.

His head coach, Bob Bradley, warned everyone. Speaking to reporters before the tournament, he said:

"“During the layoff, it was a real challenge to keep guys going. Our performance staff … did an excellent job. Most guys came back, I think, in good shape. But I think Diego is still the one who set the bar the highest. He looked like he didn’t miss a beat, and he’s been really good in training in this last stretch.”"

And while Vela is the face of LAFC, Rossi is the lesson for their future. Vela was an ageing European star coming to the end of his career across the pond. He was a more high-profile name with a greater pedigree and experience, yes, but he also represents the type of signings that MLS teams are now trying to steer clear of.

Rossi, on the other hand, was a young South American looking for his break to sell himself to European clubs. MLS offers the ideal shop window. As Atlanta United mastered with Miguel Almiron, LAFC took the same approach, recognising the potential of having Rossi for two or three years before selling him to a European team. It is a situation from which everyone wins.

As the Black and Gold enter their third year in MLS and look to establish themselves as a consistent member of the league’s elite, it is Rossi, not Vela, who offers a glimpse at their future. If they are to continue building title-winning teams, it is by finding future Diego Rossis not the next Carlos Vela.

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Vela, then, is the true star. But Rossi is the example that LAFC should replicate. The only question now is whether they are able to.