LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carlos Vela won Major League Soccer's most valuable player award by shredding scoring records and captaining Los Angeles FC to the best regular season in league history.
Vela plans to stick around because he wants to do even more for LAFC next year.
Vela accepted the Landon Donovan MVP Award on Monday at Banc of California Stadium after winning nearly 70% of the total vote over LA Galaxy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Vela scored an MLS-record 34 goals and added 15 assists, setting a new league mark for combined scoring in his second season with the 2-year-old club.
"For me, it's just a reward for all the effort and all the work," said Vela, the first Mexican player to win MLS' MVP award.
"My teammates are an important part to get this trophy, because they make my work easy," Vela added. "I come every morning to training, and I'm happy because I see my friends. When you work in a place like that, it's just easy. It was easy for me to get all the goals and wins with this team, so for that I say thank you. Sometimes you make more work than me, but in the end I get the credit, so I appreciate that."
The award was a somewhat bittersweet conclusion to the 2019 season for the prolific forward and his dominant team. LAFC went 21-4-9 and won the Supporters' Shield while reaching the MLS records for points, goals and goal differential, but lost to Seattle in the Western Conference playoff final last week.
"This trophy just makes me more hungry," Vela said while holding his MVP award. "The next step is to be champion. I will work really hard to get that trophy for my team, for my club. This one is just OK. I want the bigger one."
Vela joined LAFC as the expansion club's first player, and the former Real Sociedad forward and Arsenal prospect has been spectacular from the start in his new home. After producing 14 goals and 13 assists for LAFC in 2018, he outdid himself with the most prolific season in MLS history after turning 30 last March.
"We had really lofty expectations when we signed Carlos, and he has exceeded them on and off the field," LAFC general manager John Thorrington said. "What he did on the field was the most productive season anyone has ever had, and he embraced the responsibility he had as a leader this season, as a captain."
LAFC coach Bob Bradley was named MLS coach of the year last month, while Vela was joined by midfielder Eduard Atuesta and defender Walker Zimmerman on the league's Best XI first team. Bradley's team earned its first playoff victory by beating the Galaxy 5-3 last month, but LAFC then blew an early lead and lost 3-1 to the Sounders at home, preventing the club from playing for its first MLS Cup this weekend.
The playoff system left Vela and LAFC with a lingering feeling of disappointment despite the club's yearlong reign atop the league table, the rest of the world's metric of soccer success.
"It was a pleasure from the first moment I said I wanted to be there with you to do great things," Vela said. "This is really just one more step, because we want to win the championship. We want to do something special. We want to create a winning club. We are on the way, but we have a lot of things to do. ... I want to be here. I feel this is my home, and if the owners don't make me go home soon, I will be here for a long time."
With that answer, Vela also effectively answered the question of whether his talents are too big for MLS.
While rumors abound of clubs in Europe eager to add Vela to their attack, he is publicly committed to the long-term contract he entered with LAFC two years ago.
"Carlos would make a difference in any team in the world," Thorrington said. "But here, he has such an outsized impact. He was here at the ground floor, and he is essentially the cornerstone of our on-field product. We have designed a team to bring out the best in Carlos, and I think that opportunity Carlos has embraced is unique, and only we could offer that to him, and he has taken that with both hands."
Vela's trophy was presented by Dodgers legend Fernando Valenzuela, one of the few Mexican athletes whose accomplishments in Los Angeles surpass Vela's two-year run of brilliance in a vibrant international city where Latinos, most of Mexican ancestry, make up roughly half the population.
Ibrahimovic, who hasn't announced whether he will return to MLS next year, finished second in the voting after scoring 31 goals in his second MLS season.