Mexican professional soccer star Carlos Vela plays and captains Los Angeles FC, where he’s won the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Golden Boot. As he and his MLS team prepare for the upcoming Leagues Cup, Vela sat down with M&F to discuss what makes for a dangerous player, and what he’s learned during his storied career so far.
Carlos Vela began his footballing career in Mexico, finishing as the top scorer in the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championships, and soon joined the Premier League by signing with Arsenal. He later played for La Real for 6 years where he scored 73 goals in 250 matches. In returning to Arsenal, Vela scored a hat-trick in a League Cup win against Sheffield United, with the second goal being voted as one of Arsenal’s Greatest 50 Goals. Now 34 years of age, Vela is still a threat up-front, but what has he learned from his thousands of hours on the pitch? As team captain, Vela is leading by example and weathering the pressure from those younger players who are hungry to run rings around him. Still, with Los Angeles FC currently at the top of the Western Conference board, those younger players shouldn’t underestimate his skills, and could do a lot worse than following his sage advice:
Listen And Learn To Improve Your Game
Sometimes being young makes us blinkered to our flaws, and the needs of our teammates, explains the footballing legend. “When you are young, you make more mistakes,” he says. “You don’t listen a lot but during the years, you start to understand that (it’s) most important to learn from others and to do the right things. When you do that, the success is coming. If you start to do your own thing, you are selfish and just want to score goals and think ‘I don’t care about the rest,’ and you will struggle … If different people are all saying the same (constructive) things (about how you are playing) then something is not going well, so you have to listen.”
Stay Calm and Focus for Soccer Greatness
Great results will come from learning to shut out noises and distractions that throw you off track. “When you are young, sometimes you start to have a lot of things in the head, and sometimes they are not good,” says Vela. “So, when you start to get more experienced, more calm about what is best for you, and best for your team, you start to make better choices. I think everybody experiences that, but it’s realty true. With all this experience that I have right now, if you put my brain with my body from 20 years ago, I would have flied for sure, but it’s part of the process.”
Older Players Can Use Age as an Advantage
While more mature players such as Vela might be outrun by some players that are half his age, this goal scorer understands that getting older means you are also carrying more wisdom. “Now, (mature players) might lose speed, maybe strength, but you win mentally,” he explains. “Mentally, you are a little bit ahead of the young guys, so you can work with that. You have to think where to go before the other guys will run, and you have to know what the play needs from you, and be in better positions because if you rely only on speed, you will lose most of the time. So, you have to be smarter on that. Before you get the ball, you have to start to think ‘what is coming next?’ and be prepared before the others, to get a good result.”
Gym Goals Become Match Points for Carlos Vela
While it’s hard to replicate the level of cardio intensity that a 90-minute game of football brings, thankfully, playing lots of games this season has kept Vela match-fit. Still, Vela utilizes the gym to work on other aspects of his game. “It’s so important, and you realize that when you get older,” says the attacker.
“You have to make a good routine because your body is not the same, so you have to prepare for the youngest guy that (also) goes to the gym.” Vela tells M&F that he works on his mobility with resistance bands, and takes a particular interest in building his explosive power in order to keep his edge. Vela uses Plyometric training; contracting and elongating his muscles with sprints and other activities such as box jumps to stay ahead of the pack. Vela says that the gym work that he does around his football training is equally as important as learning footballing technique itself. The captain also believes that as younger players continue to adopt gym routines earlier in their careers, the standard of play will keep getting better.
Of course, the standard of play will be put to the test during the Leagues Cup 2023, when it all kicks off on July 21 to August 19. This will be a World Cup-style tournament including all MLS and LIGA MX clubs. And, throughout the summer, Coors Light (the official beer of the Leagues Cup) is furthering its commitment to soccer fans by partnering with Vela, and developing thematic packaging, onsite activations, and athlete partnerships to enjoy alongside each and every match. One sought-after piece of merch will be a branded scarf, featuring pockets for holding cans of Coors. “I’m really excited to be part of this partnership,” says Vela. “Because we know how football fans are really crazy and really passionate. And in this league, for sure, the people will be really excited.”
Coors Light’s involvement in the new and exciting league illustrates the mounting interest in U.S. soccer. “Now is my sixth year here,” says Vela. “And every year is an improvement and when you see that, you feel good to be part of something that is getting better and better. I want to help this league to grow, and go in the right direction, and I think this year, with Messi coming, I think a lot of good players are looking to this league.”
Indeed, seven-time Ballon d’OR winner, Lionel Messi is now a part of MLS after joining Inter Miami CF, but Vela doesn’t intend to become distracted by the hoopla around his arrival. “Of course, always, you can do a little bit better but I think we are doing really well because we’ve been playing a lot of games and the roster is a really tight group,” says the Los Angeles FC team captain. “So, in the end, I think we prepare really well.”