MLS ex­pan­sion team will make Mex­i­can na­tional team star its first des­ig­nated player.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

Los An­ge­les Foot­ball Club is still seven months from its Ma­jor League Soc­cer de­but, but the fran­chise laid the cor­ner­stone of its foun­da­tion Tues­day when it agreed to con­tract terms with Mex­i­can na­tional team for­ward Car­los Vela.

Vela, 28, has played the last six sea­sons for Real So­ciedad of Spain’s La Liga, scor­ing 65 goals in 204 games. He has 17 goals in 58 games with the na­tional team, the most re­cent com­ing in June’s World Cup qual­i­fier against the U.S.

Vela an­nounced the move on so­cial me­dia Tues­day, first pen­ning a thankyou note to Real So­ciedad and its sup­port­ers, then pos­ing in LAFC col­ors four hours later.

An LAFC of­fi­cial, who was not au­tho­rized to speak about Vela on the record, also con­firmed the deal, which is ex­pected to be fi­nal­ized Wed­nes­day morn­ing. If that hap­pens, Vela will be in­tro­duced as LAFC’s first des­ig­nated-player sign­ing Fri­day.

“All along this was what we wanted,” the of­fi­cial said. “A dy­namic, at­tack­ing play-

er in his prime. He’s ea­ger and ex­cited to come to L.A. and make his­tory, do some­thing spe­cial. That matters.”

Vela is LAFC’s sec­ond ma­jor sign­ing in the less than two weeks. For­mer na­tional team coach Bob Bradley was in­tro­duced as the ex­pan­sion team’s first man­ager 12 days ago.

An im­por­tant fac­tor in Vela’s sign­ing was the fact he will be able to con­tinue play­ing for Real So­ciedad through the end of the year be­fore join­ing LAFC for pre­sea­son train­ing in Jan­uary and the team’s first game in March. Sign­ing a player in a World Cup year can be dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially for an ex­pan­sion team, be­cause many do not want to change teams un­til af­ter the tour­na­ment. By then LAFC’s first sea­son would be half over.

In­stead LAFC, which has only seven months to put to­gether a first-team ros­ter, starts that process with a player who ar­guably ranks among the top for­wards in MLS. A cre­ative player who can chal­lenge de­fend­ers one-on-one, Vela was the lead­ing scorer when Mex­ico won the U-17 World Cup in 2005 and has also played in a se­nior World Cup and on two Gold Cup-win­ning teams.

But the deal wasn’t pop­u­lar at home. Vela is the sec­ond Mex­i­can na­tional team player to join MLS in less than two weeks, fol­low­ing mid­fielder Jonathan dos San­tos, 27, who left Spain’s Vil­lar­real last month, then made his league de­but for the Galaxy last Sun­day.

Na­tional team coach Juan Car­los Os­o­rio re­peat­edly has said he wants his play­ers com­pet­ing at the high­est level in prepa­ra­tion for next sum­mer’s World Cup. But in the last 10 days Vela and Dos San­tos have left one of the world’s strong­est leagues for MLS, fol­low­ing Dos San­tos’ older brother Gio, who made the move two years ago.

So­cial me­dia lit up Tues­day with fans and soc­cer com­men­ta­tors in Mex­ico lament­ing Vela’s “re­tire­ment” and mus­ing about how the move from La Liga to the U.S. would af­fect the play of Vela and the younger Dos San­tos.

Vela has long drawn the in­ter­est of MLS teams, although LAFC didn’t land him un­til los­ing out on two other Mex­i­can na­tional team play­ers in Javier “Chichar­ito” Hernandez and An­dres Guardado.

Hernandez, Mex­ico’s all­time lead­ing scorer, was be­lieved to be a prime LAFC tar­get, but talks re­port­edly broke down over price. A deal with Guardado was lit­tle more than a sig­na­ture away in June be­fore the mid­fielder changed his mind and signed with Spain’s Real Betis.

Terms of Vela’s con­tract were not dis­closed, although the LAFC of­fi­cial con­firmed the club paid a trans­fer fee, re­ported by the Span­ish me­dia out­let Marca to be $5.87 mil­lion. Vela, whose con­tract with the Span­ish club runs through next spring, re­port­edly earned be­tween $3.3 mil­lion and $4 mil­lion a year. He prob­a­bly will get a raise to join MLS.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue with other play­ers, the LAFC of­fi­cial said, although no oth­ers ap­pear close.

“You’ll get them when­ever they come,” he said.

Al­fredo Estrella AFP/Getty

CAR­LOS VELA cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing for Mex­ico against the U.S. in World Cup qual­i­fier.

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