LAFC Reaches Another Milestone As A Nervy Night Turns Magical 


Six seasons ago Carlos Vela assisted on the first goal in LAFC history. Wednesday night he scored the club’s 350th. When telling the story of the MLS team that reached that 350-goal milestone faster than any other, those two moments, and that one player, pretty much sums it up. 

The 2018 video clip of Vela slotting a pass across the Seattle turf and into the path of then-teenager Diego Rossi, who drilled it into the upper corner, will be forever etched into the minds of LAFC diehards as more than just an inaugural goal. It told the world how this brand-new club was going to play.

Flash forward to BMO Stadium on Wednesday night, when Vela, the only remaining player from that original squad, summoned a bit of 2018 footspeed to secure the winning goal in a game that felt almost as good as that historic first win in Seattle 350 goals ago. 

Speaking of which, as successful as Sounders FC has been since arriving in MLS in 2009, Seattle didn’t score its 350th regular-season goal until its seventh season. Mighty DC United, which won the first-ever MLS Cup in 1996 (then did it again a year later) needed 184 games to get there. Those dominant Galaxy teams from the late '90s and early 2000s needed 188 games.

The Black & Gold did it in 180. Providing further evidence that no other American sports team has enjoyed a more exciting start than the one in the heart of Los Angeles. 

The evidence also suggests that LAFC’s wisest move among a long string of them was signing a certain Cancùn native as its first Designated Player. 

Among the more than 100 footballers LAFC has employed on its first-team roster since 2018, only Vela has shaken the hand of each. Since the club’s inception, every LAFC player – from Atuesta (7 goals for LAFC) to Zimmerman (5) – has participated in this daring soccer experiment with the man who helped invent it, and who has scored a franchise-best 76 regular-season goals and assisted on 52 more.

Sure, some of LAFC’s 350 goals have been more important than Vela’s breakthrough against conference leaders FC St. Louis City on Wednesday, but few were more timely. More needed

“I don’t think it’s a secret to say that we haven’t been at our best for the last couple weeks, for many reasons,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said after the game. (Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini was clear about those reasons earlier in the week: “Playing every three days after a Champions League final—it was insane what we did.”) The team had been bravely limping forward for more than a month, enduring streaks of goallessness that were unfamiliar to anyone who’d seen the club’s first five seasons.

The way the suffering ended was fitting. With the game tied at zero in the 71st minute, Vela slid hard for a 50-50 ball he had no chance of winning and tore a hole in his compression shorts in the process. He rose, undaunted, and moments later when teammate Jose Cifuentes lofted a long ball ahead of Vela and into space, LAFC’s captain hit the jets, outran a 25-year-old opponent to get there first, then nearly tore a hole in the back of the net with a left-footed finish, firing it into the belly of the North End supporters who have witnessed each of the 214 home goals the club has scored since the stadium opened (except a few during the 2020 season) and most of LAFC’s 138 road goals as well.

LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy could only shrug and smile afterward. “That’s Carlos.”

Two more goals followed Vela’s. St. Louis’ lead in the Western Conference standings was reduced from five points to two. All was well again. And the man who has been on this journey since it began vanished humbly into the tunnel wearing a familiar grin, the one that suggests he had planned the whole thing.