Orlando, Fla. — What does a soccer player in Los Angeles have in common with a Greek Titan? In addition to being more than a mere mortal, both Carlos Vela and Atlas are known for their feats of strength. While Atlas was tasked with holding up the heavens as punishment, Vela was tasked with carrying all of Los Angeles. When he was needed most, he put the team, and the city, on his back en route to LAFC‘s first ever Finals appearance.
SCCL: LAFC Reach Finals Behind Carlos Vela’s Second-Half Surge
The match began fair enough, with Los Angeles controlling the opening 10 minutes. However, it was Club América who opened up scoring. A corner in the 11th minute found the head of Sebastián Cáceres, who nodded it in far post for the lead. However, from there, the fairness went out the window and chaos crept in.
As halftime approached, after five first half yellow cards, it all came to a head. An uncalled penalty on LAFC’s Eduard Atuesta, devolved into pushing, shoving, and flopping around. The result, Atuesta was shown a red card, putting an early end to his match, and possibly his tournament.
Head coach Bob Bradley likely channeled his inner Zeus at halftime, challenging Vela to put the team on his back. In superstar fashion, Vela obliged. In just two minutes, the match was turned upside, and LAFC took the lead behind El Rey. Mere seconds into the second-half, Vela intercepted a sloppy pass, and put in a rocket that leveled things at one goal a piece. Only a minute later, he flew past defenders on a break, calmly slotting in his second, giving his team the lead.
However, this is where the match went completely left. The second-half chaos-housery was cranked up to 100, and what remained was less a soccer match, and more street brawl. Bodies were flying from fouls, and flops, alike. América’s defender Luis Reyes was show a second yellow, ending his night late in the match. However, the match did end on a high for LAFC, when Latif Blessing scored the team’s third and final goal.
That secured the win, and LAFC’s spot in the SCCL Finals.
"You can tell how much it means to him, it comes across to all the other players. It's a special kind of leadership and then he backs it up on the field."
— LAFC (@LAFC) December 20, 2020
El Rey, El Capitán, Charlie Candle, soon to be MLS G.O.A.T.
Way back in 2018, Bradley encouraged Vela, telling him he could be the Messi for MLS. The world scoffed, and laughed, yet Vela has continued to improve. The day his move to Los Angeles was announced, many felt it was the start of retirement, but it was really the start of him reaching yet another level. Last night was the embodiment of Vela’s “Championship or the season is a failure” quotes from earlier in the year.
With backs against the walls, when all hope seems lost, in sports, you turn to your leader. A true champion, a true MVP does everything in their power to ensure their team victory in the most critical of moments. Vela did that. In one minute he scored two goals, in the SCCL semifinals, against Liga MX’s most decorated club. The reports of his demise were highly exaggerated, and now he’s 90 minutes from leading LAFC to even more history.
Job’s Not Finished
It was a quote made famous by Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant.
Up 2-0 in the 2009 NBA Finals, Bryant was asked why he wasn’t smiling, was he not happy? “What’s there to be happy about? Job’s not finished” was his retort.
It was a rallying cry adopted by the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers en route to their 17th NBA Championship, and now, by the 2020 Los Angeles Football Club. It is a gentle reminder that while you are excitingly close to all of your goals, there is still work to be done. A reminder to keep focus, not lose that killer instinct, that Mamba Mentality. While reaching a Finals match for the first time is definitely something to celebrate, the job’s not finished.
3⃣ down, 1⃣ to go.
— LAFC (@LAFC) December 20, 2020
The Last Word
Chaos. That’s the word. In its most beautiful, purest MLS and Concacaf form, chaos is what we witnessed last night. A battle between two teams that decided before the match, by hook or by crook, they would win the match. Professor Snape would be proud to see the Dark Arts on display. Championship mentality is a phrase I have used many times when describing LAFC this year. Lamenting them for constantly letting emotions overcome them.
However, last night they showed what happens when you stay above the fray, and play your style of soccer. While it would’ve been easy to implode after several non-calls, an unjust red card and being down a goal at half, they didn’t. Carlos Vela wouldn’t allow it. His early goals in the second half was the catalyst needed to get LAFC back to their ways, and the result, a trip to the Concacaf Champions League Finals.