Mexican professional soccer star Carlos Vela plays and captains Los Angeles FC, where he won the Supporters' Shield and 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 a dangerous player and what he's learned in his career so far.
Carlos Vela started his football career in Mexico where he was top scorer at the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Cup and soon after moved to the Premier League by signing with Arsenal. He later played for La Real for six years, where he scored 73 goals in 250 games. On his Arsenal return, Vela scored a hat-trick in the League Cup win over Sheffield United, with the second goal being voted one of Arsenal's top 50 goals. At 34, Vela is still a dangerous attacking force, but what has he learned from his thousands of hours on the pitch? As team captain, Vela leads by example, defying pressure from the younger players who are keen to surround him. But with Los Angeles FC currently at the top of the Western Conference, these younger players shouldn't underestimate his abilities and could do far worse than heed his sage advice:
Listen and learn to improve your game
"Sometimes our youth makes us focus on our mistakes and the needs of our teammates," explains the football legend. "When you're young, you make more mistakes," he says. “You don't listen much, but over the years you start to understand that the most important thing is to learn from others and do the right things. If you do that, success will come. When you start doing your own thing, you're selfish and you just want to score goals and you're like, 'I don't care about the rest' and you're going to have trouble... When different people are all saying the same (constructive) things (about how you play), then something isn't going well, so you have to listen."
Keep calm and focus on the size of the football
When you learn how to block out noise and distractions that throw you off course, you will achieve great results. "Sometimes when you're young you start having a lot of things on your mind, and sometimes they're not good," says Vela. "So as you start to become more experienced and have more composure about what's best for you and your team, you start making better decisions. I think everyone experiences that, but it really is like that. If you were to compare my brain to my body 20 years ago, I would certainly have flown with all the experience I have now, but that's part of the process."
Older players can use age as an advantage
While more mature players like Vela may be overtaken by some players half his age, this goalscorer understands that with age comes wisdom. "Today (mature players) may lose speed, maybe power, but mentally you win," he explains. "Mentally you're a bit ahead of the young people, so you can work with that. You have to think where to go before the other guys run away and you have to know what the game needs from you and be in better positions because if you only rely on speed you will lose most of the time. So you have to be smarter about it. Before you get the ball, you need to think, “What's next?” and be prepared in front of the others to get a good score.”
Goals in the gym become match points for Carlos Vela
Fortunately, while it's difficult to match the cardio intensity that a 90-minute soccer game entails, Vela has kept fit through many games this season. Still, Vela uses the gym to work on other aspects of his game. "It's so important, and you realize that as you get older," says the attacker.
"You have to keep a good routine because your body isn't the same, so you have to prepare for the youngest man to go to the gym." Vela tells M&F that he works on his flexibility with resistance bands and has a particular interest in building his explosive power to stay ahead of the curve. Vela uses plyometric training; He contracts and stretches his muscles through sprints and other activities like box jumps to stay ahead of the competition. Vela says working in the gym around his soccer training is just as important as learning the soccer technique itself. The captain also believes the level of the game will only continue to improve as younger players switch to gym training earlier in their careers.
Of course, the level of play will be put to the test at the 2023 Leagues Cup when it all kicks off from July 21st to August 19th. This is a World Cup style tournament in which all MLS and LIGA MX clubs participate. And throughout the summer, Coors Light (the official beer of the League Cup) reinforces its commitment to football fans through a partnership with Vela and the development of themed packaging, on-site activations and athlete partnerships to be enjoyed at every single game. A coveted piece of merchandise will be a branded scarf with pockets for Coors cans. "I am very pleased to be part of this partnership," says Vela. “Because we know how crazy and passionate football fans are. And in this league, for sure, people will be very excited.”
Coors Light's involvement in the new and exciting league illustrates the growing interest in US soccer. "w it's my sixth year here," says Vela. "And every year is an improvement and seeing that makes you feel good to be a part of something that just keeps getting better. I want to help this league to grow and go in the right direction and I think that this year when Messi comes there will be a lot of good players looking to this league."
Indeed, seven-time Ballon d'OR winner Lionel Messi is now part of the MLS after joining Inter Miami CF but Vela has no intention of being distracted by the excitement surrounding his arrival. "Of course you can always do a little better, but I think we're doing really well because we've played a lot of games and the squad is a very tight group," said the Los Angeles FC team captain. "So in the end I think we prepared really well."