LAFC has Supporters' Shield in sight, Vela firing on all cylinders

Andy Deossa

LOS ANGELES — It’s all in the numbers.

Unless something drastically changes over the next month, LAFC will likely be adding the first trophy to their case. The Supporters’ Shield has evolved from a goal to within reality. A 4-2 win Sunday over the New York Red Bulls, the 2018 Shield winner, got the Black and Gold to 55 points on the season. They are now 16 points clear in the Western Conference, while no other team in the West has even cracked 40.

Speaking of 40, that is LAFC’s goal differential, continuously piling on their dominant offensive output and distancing themselves from the pack. The next closest team is Atlanta United with 13. Talk about a discrepancy.

You know it’s going well when you have the highest-scoring team in MLS, yet a pair of defenders are standout players in the win over New York because of identical set piece goals. Jordan Harvey and Eddie Segura scored their first goals of the season, respectively, thanks to perfect deliveries from Carlos Vela (more on him later).

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 11: Carlos Vela #10 of Los Angeles FC during Los Angeles FC's MLS match against New York Red Bulls at the Banc of California Stadium on August 11, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  Los Angeles FC won the match 4-2 (Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images)
Carlos Vela has already tied former Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco's single-season MLS record for most goals and assists combined. (Getty)

It was noted postgame by Alex Dwyer of MLS’ official website that everyone in Sunday’s starting lineup, besides keeper Tyler Miller, has now scored.

“It means a lot just because Jordan Harvey and Eddie Segura have been tremendous every game in the back line, and they’re guys that don’t necessarily get the headlines,” said defender Steven Beitashour. “Now that they finally got on the scoresheet.”

It was Harvey’s first goal in 767 days, dating back to when he was a member of the Vancouver Whitecaps. For Segura, who was here on a loan from Colombian side Atletico Huila, his debut MLS tally came just two weeks after officially signing a permanent multi-year deal with LAFC.

“I’m very happy,” Segura said. “Today it was [the defenders’] turn and we truly enjoyed it to the max.”

Vela on another level

Manager Bob Bradley once challenged Carlos Vela to be as good as Messi. It was a bold statement, but the sentiment was felt and certainly has motivated Vela as he continues crafting one of the best seasons in MLS history.

LAFC’s captain scored his 23rd goal in as many games and picked up a pair of assists to raise his total to 15. He leads the league in both categories, he’s already tied Sebastian Giovinco’s record for most combined goals and assists in a single season, and has his sights set on Josef Martinez’s record of 31 goals, set just last campaign.

“For me, this record is more important than just goals. I’m not a striker, I’m not just trying to score goals,” Vela said. “I’m trying to involve all my teammates and make plays for them.”

It’s not just an LAFC thing, either; he’s also standing out in other categories. His goal Sunday put him at 37 in 51 regular season games, passing Erick Torres to become the top Mexican goalscorer in MLS history.

Vela’s move from Real Sociedad to LAFC was heavily criticized and sometimes still is (looking at you, Zlatan), but Vela fully accepts it. The Black and Gold gambled, and the return has been great.

“He was our first signing, we knew it was a big statement of the kind of football we wanted to play,” Bradley said. “We also knew it was a way to connect immediately with the city and all the different supporters we have that we’re gonna have a team that’s talented, diverse and fun to watch.

“Carlos has come in and done all of that and then on top of it grown as a leader. He has his style of leadership – he does it in a way where he’s smiling and has personality, but his teammates know that he’s always there for them. He’s been fantastic in all ways.”

FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 03: Los Angeles FC head coach Bob Bradley walks to the bench before a match between the New England Revolution and Los Angeles FC on August 3, 2019, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Bob Bradley and LAFC still have a zero in the win column against the LA Galaxy, and it's something they have a chance to change later this month. (Getty)

What’s left for LAFC

So it looks like the Supporters’ Shield is coming to Los Angeles. When LAFC will officially clinch is the question.

Their next game is a trip to Utah to face a Real Salt Lake team that just fired its head coach. Then they host the San Jose Earthquakes. But it’s all leading to the most important number LAFC is feverishly after: changing the zero in the win column vs. LA Galaxy.

The Black and Gold close out August with El Trafico at home, and getting that first win over their rivals might be enough to help effectively secure the best record in MLS.

Those are just regular season accolades, though. The playoffs are a whole different story, or as Vela referred to it, two different tournaments. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic had his way and MLS used the format many European leagues do, there would be zero intrigue at this point. LAFC would be running victory laps and waiting for the numbers to align to finally raise the Cup.

It’s not going to be that easy. The Shield is a step, but since 2008, only three teams (Columbus Crew, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC) were able to win both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.

What finishing with that top record does guarantee is every postseason game LAFC plays will be at Banc of California Stadium, thanks to the new system. And they have yet to lose in 11 MLS games there this season.

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