In 1996, Roy Lassiter scored 27 goals for the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Lassiter’s goal haul in the inaugural MLS season was the new league’s first single-season goals record. And it remained the record for 22 seasons.
Josef Martinez finally broke Lassiter’s record 22 seasons later. Others had come close - Chris Wondolowski (2012) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (2014) leveled Lassiter’s mark. Martinez shattered the record with 31 goals in 2018. A new MLS goal king was crowned and the 30-goal barrier broken as well.
Now, just a season later, Carlos Vela is looking to break the record again.
Vela already became the second player ever to reach 30 goals prior to Sunday’s match in Minnesota. Against the Loons, Vela scored his record-tying 31st goal of the season.
The LAFC captain did it in trademark fashion, unleashing a curling left-footed shot from the right side of the goal. It was his eighth consecutive match with a goal and 15th goal in his last 13 matches.
Vela has a chance to break Martinez’s record on the final day of the MLS season. In doing so he’d likely help LAFC to another record - most points in a season with 72. It would be the second time in as many seasons that both the goals record and points records were broken in MLS.
Last season, Martinez won the MLS MVP. This year, Vela will do the same. And it’s been surreal to see people even suggest there’s a debate around the award.
Because even before Sunday, Vela has had the greatest individual season in MLS history. Goal king or not, it’s the best.
Vela has been directly involved in 46 goals this season. Ahead of Sunday, 56 percent of LAFC’s league-high 82 goals have gone through Vela. Eight teams in MLS have scored fewer goals than Vela’s combined goals and assists total - FC Cincinnati and Vela enter Sunday with 31 goals scored each.
And that’s just Vela's goals and assists - Vela leads MLS in shots on goal (67) and no doubt a few of those rebounds found the foot of an LAFC teammate and subsequently the back of the net. These aren't empty stats either. Vela has the most goals and most assists on the Supporters' Shield winning team that is within one win of breaking the points record. For good measure, LAFC owns the best defensive record in the league as well with 36 goals conceded.
In 2015, Sebastian Giovinco set the record for combined goals and assists in an MLS season with 38. Giovinco's record had been considered the most impressive stat line in MLS history - he also won the MLS MVP in 2015.
Giovinco ended that season with 22 goals and 16 assists. He became the first 20/15 player in MLS history. No player had produced a 20/10 season prior - only one player besides Vela this season has done it since. Giovinco carried his Toronto FC team to the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot that season.
The best player on the best team this season, Vela has raised that bar even higher. A 30/10 player was basically unimaginable even after Giovinco. Vela one-upped that with a 30/15 season.
There's been a lot of great goal scorers in this league. There's been a lot of great playmakers as well. We may never see another all-around season this great.
"In the end, I'm not a striker. I'm not just scoring goals or I'm not always just in the front, waiting for the ball," Vela said when asked about his combined goals and assists record. "I'm trying to involve all my teammates. I am trying to help them. I am trying to make some plays for them. That's more important."
Vela isn’t just on the precipice of making the single-season goal record his own, he'd already set a new standard before tying Martinez's mark.
There very well may be a new MLS goal king by the end of play on Sunday. But the greatest individual season in MLS history has never been in doubt.