Here comes the keeper.
At first, it looked like Carlos Vela’s normally impeccable touch had let him down. And for a fraction of a second, the chance was gone. By the time he took his second touch, David Bingham was close enough to smother him.
Then a split second later, Bingham wasn’t.
Vela reversed course. A full pivot to his left and Bingham now floundered on his back a few yards away. But even then, there was still work to do.
Five Galaxy players had gathered within six yards of their own goal line. Even with the goalkeeper temporarily incapacitated, a wall of white stood between Vela and the goal.
But Vela never panicked.
Diego Rossi, who created the chance by picking out Vela on the left side of the Galaxy penalty area, was now screaming from the top of the box for the return pass. Bingham scuttled frantically across the turf in a last-ditch effort as a sixth Galaxy player rushed back to his aid.
And still, Vela was in full control.
Of the 16 goals we selected to be a part of LAFC’s Goal of the Year voting for 2018, Vela has five entries. The final was a Vela versus Vela matchup. And we probably could have included one or two more (my bad) of his team-high 14 goals this season.
His entire career has been punctuated by moments like these. It’s not just that Vela scores stunners – he definitely does. It’s that he elevates the moment even when nothing seems on. Or better yet, when all seems lost. That self-belief is always there, simmering just below the surface of doubters. Even if you can’t quantify it at any given time, when it arrives, you can’t miss it.
But back to the goal.
Amidst the chaos, there’s a moment. It’s not time standing still per se. I’d liken it to an interval of rest inserted into a song to let it breathe a beat before the big finish - it’s definitely not strictly necessary to the quality of the song but it’s there by choice, and without it, the song wouldn’t be the same in a sort of mad genius way.
Vela orchestrates this “silent beat” by taking a quick peek at the crowd of defenders starring him down. They stand between him and the goal. They outnumber him more than five to one. But Vela has the ball at his feet and his mind made up.
A flick of Vela’s right boot and the chaos is back in motion.
As the ball crescendos to its ultimate goal, now time is standing still. The Galaxy defenders leap in vain. The ball kisses off the underside of the crossbar. One bounce off the crossbar, another just the other side of the goal line. Did he mean to do that? Of course, he did.
A defender half-heartedly clears the ball after it comes back into play and we’re back to real time. The camera pans to the LAFC traveling support. A mass of black and gold bounces and nearly spills onto the pitch. A sight made even more striking by the stunned faces throughout the rest of the stadium.
Calm as ever, Vela raised his arms as teammates gathered around him. With a smile from ear to ear, he jogged back to the other side of the pitch.
He never doubted it for a second.