Peers, teammates, and friends, on Saturday it looks likely that Chicharito and Carlos Vela will square off for the first time in MLS, when the LA Galaxy host LAFC in 2022’s first edition of El Trafico.
It’s an interesting match-up, not only because the (currently former) Mexican internationals have played together going back to their days as teenagers, came through the same Chivas youth system and criss-crossed the globe in similar ways and have both started this season healthy and in form. Each player has an MLS Player of the Week award in 2022, they both have four goals in five games to start this campaign, and they remain quite possibly the biggest stars in the league at the moment. At 33 years old each, it feels like there is more glory to be had for either or both of them.
At the same time, for all of the similarities, there are major differences for both stars. Chicharito’s game is easy to map out: He’s a classic poacher, a pure No. 9 who positions himself on the shoulder of the opposing center back and finds space to finish his chances when he gets them.
He’s also gregarious. If you ask Chicharito a question, his default is to talk for several minutes at a time, whether Spanish or English. The LA Galaxy man clearly is a talker, you can see that on the field and even questions he doesn’t like from the press, he’ll take a good bite from and give you plenty of material to work with.
In contrast, Vela is nominally a forward but he’s more of an “attacker.” He can play as a No. 9, but he’s deadliest when he drifts around the field, finds pockets of space and hits a trademark left-footed curler from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Vela is also more reserved in public. He’s game to do interviews, seems to be more comfortable fielding questions in English than Spanish, curiously, but he’s not the same kind of talker as his compatriot, that’s for sure. Vela’s sense of humor seems to be quite good, but the player seems to keep that under wraps to the wider public.
What the forwards share is a maturity at this point in their careers to continue to work hard week in and week out, but to also not bother worrying what others think about them. You can’t win when you’re trying to please everyone, and after playing for and in soccer-mad countries like Mexico, England and Spain, both players know they need to be real to themselves, ultimately.
When asked about the player vs. player face-off this week, Chicharito deflected, noting it’s a team sport and the chance of him facing Vela literally directly is pretty low considering they play on opposite ends of the field. It’s true, both players could be completely sidelined on the field while others become the protagonists, or one or both could prove to be game-changers on the day. That’s the nature of the sport, after all.
But as we saw in NWSL last weekend with Alex Morgan and Christen Press trading goals in a Southern California derby on national television, there’s an extra crackle to games when the marquee stars step up. With this likely to be the first time the longtime El Tri teammates face each other in MLS, it will be interesting to see if Chicharito and Vela can add more on-field fireworks to El Trafico.
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