When Carlos Vela really celebrates a goal, that's when you know it's good.
Vela has had ample opportunities to do so - 48 goals over his first two seasons with LAFC. But usually, we see the level-headed LAFC captain simply smile, raise a fist to the sky, and then a kiss and wave to his family in the stands.
Even after scoring a record 32nd goal this season, Vela merely stood in place and calmly raised both hands to the sky. Teammates made up for it by mobbing Vela from all angles, even Tyler Miller sprinted the 70 yards upfield to be a part of it all.
After goal No. 33 on the season, not even Vela could hold back.
Falling to the pitch as the ball hit the net, Vela immediately popped up and sprinted to the corner flag. The emotion was written all over his face. The trademark smirk was a bit wider this time.
Vela's 34th goal of the season would follow. The hat trick completed. The bar for the new single-season record set that little bit higher. But the sight of seeing a footballer at the top of his game and absolutely enjoying every moment of it was one of those special moments on a day of many special moments.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's record-breaking 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids:
For the third year in a row, the MLS single-season points record has fallen. The New York Red Bulls might have been the first MLS team in history to break the 70-point barrier but they didn't do it in this fashion.
Here are just a few of the records LAFC set or matched to go along with its record-breaking 72 points:
- Best Goal Differential - +48
- Quickest Team To Clinch A Playoff Spot - 25 matches
- Most Goals Scored - tied at 85 goals
- Fewest Losses In A Season - tied with 4 losses
All Hail The MLS Goal King
A record is a record. It never hurts when it's done in emphatic fashion.
Coming into the final match of the season tied with Josef Martinez for the single-season record, just one goal would have done. And Vela's first was worthy of history.
The Rapids committed that cardinal sin when it comes to Vela. Give him time to lift his head and measure his shot, he's more than likely going to put it where he wants it. And that's exactly what he did. Tim Howard had no chance.
Vela went on to net the aforementioned golazo as his second. Then he raised the ante by completing his hat trick. That's the type of memory you wish could accompany every record.
All Different Ways
In the last few matches, we've seen Carlos Vela line up predominately as LAFC's No. 9. In other words, he's the tip of the spear in the LAFC attack - or less poetically, a center forward.
But Bob Bradley doesn't just want him to stand pressed up against the center backs, awaiting the opportunity to put the finishing touches on a movement. Vela is given a free role and expected to create advantages in necessary areas. Against Colorado, he showed how versatile he can be.
The first goal had a mix of two elements. Vela initially split the center backs as a traditional No. 9 would. But as the pass forced him to his back foot, Vela turned into a playmaker between the lines.
Diego Rossi ran off Vela, forcing Colorado to retreat deeper and respect the Vela's ability to play Rossi through. Creating separation, Vela faced up the defenders and where most center forwards would lay the ball off and make a beeline for goal, Vela picked his head up, assessed the situation, and crafted the perfect finish.
The second and third goal saw Vela show he's comfortable in central areas close to goal as well. Before the acrobatics to finish the second, Vela made nice use of his body, the way a larger center forward would, to keep Tommy Smith at a distance. With his body between Smith and the ball, Vela again showcased his flair for the spectacular with an overhead kick.
The third goal was simply a goal-scorers goal. Vela recognized the ball into space for Tristan Blackmon and from there its a sprint to the spot. Get there first and its a tap-in. With a hat trick on the line, Vela was always going to win that race.
Three goals created with Vela starting in a central area. Each with Vela's own take on the position.
Outside Backs In The Attack
Jordan Harvey and Tristan Blackmon were so effective against Colorado on Sunday in numerous phases of play.
The Colorado Rapids fielded a 3-5-2 in the hopes of stifling LAFC centrally and getting their wingbacks into play on the other end. But with Harvey and Blackmon picking up dangerous positions in the Rapids' defensive third, the wingbacks were pinned back for much of the match and Colorado's center-back trio had to slide over at times to cover, opening up more space centrally.
That had a two-fold outcome for LAFC. For one, Blackmon finished the match with two assists. But in addition to the offensive boost they provided, it kept the Rapids from countering quickly in the wide channels.
With only Kei Kamara forward as an out ball, the Rapids had to play centrally most times and rely on Kamara's hold-up play. In addition to not being able to play into open spaces to relieve pressure, the Rapids had trouble dealing with the extra LAFC defenders upfield. Harvey and Blackmon finished with seven defensive actions - i.e. a tackle, recovery, or interception - in the Colorado half of the field.
Killing The Match With Possession
There are two prevailing methodologies when trying to preserve a result: sit back and limit opportunities or suffocate the opponent with possession.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, energy was at a premium in the match. Up 3-1 heading into the final 10 minutes or so of the match, LAFC let the ball do the work for them. During that stretch, LAFC passed Colorado to death. The Black & Gold had about 80 percent of the possession. It wasn't toothless though.
LAFC found moments to stretch Colorado thanks to the work of the midfield. Lee Nguyen, Eduard Atuesta, and Mark-Anthony Kaye picked out areas to receive and Rapids had no choice but to chase. Utilizing the space to dribble, the midfielders were smart with the ball. When they had the advantage, they played forward in search of an opening to goal. When Colorado got back in numbers, they'd recycle position to less crowded areas.
After the match, Bob Bradley said that way of controlling games through possession is one of the things top teams do. He added, it's one of the hardest components of the game to master and he was pleased to see his team execute intelligently during that stretch.
With the playoffs now looming, it was hopefully good practice for LAFC.