Newcomers make noise early in the MLS season

March 14, 2018
Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, right, trips up Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela (10) during an MLS soccer match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, Saturday March 10, 2018. LAFC won 5-1. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Carlos Vela has played around the world — most recently for La Liga’s Real Sociedad. But he’s a newbie to Major League Soccer.

Just two games in, the 29-year-old star from Mexico is already having an impact for Los Angeles FC.

In the expansion team’s season opener against the Seattle Sounders, fellow newcomer Diego Rossi scored in the 11th minute off a pass from Vela in a 1-0 victory.

Vela added another assist — along with his first MLS goal — last Saturday in a 5-1 rout of Real Salt Lake.

“It was very important to help the team in goals and assists and overall good play. I think that’s why they brought me here and I’m happy our debut has gone well,” he said afterward.

Vela had played for Real Sociedad since 2011, scoring 72 goals in 230 appearances. Before that he was under contract with Arsenal.

Vela is one of the highest-profile newcomers to MLS this season. The league says that 100 players that weren’t previously in MLS or with affiliated clubs were signed by teams.

The average age of the new players is 24.98, for the youngest incoming class in league history. The average age of the 12 new designated players is 23.16.

That certainly puts to rest the old notion that MLS was a “retirement league” for players in the twilight of their careers.

Some of the other notable new faces in MLS this season.

DIEGO ROSSI, LAFC: Rossi, a 19-year-old forward from Uruguay, was LAFC’s second designated player after Vela. He comes to the league after two seasons with Penarol, Uruguay’s top-tier team. He had 10 goals last season to help the team to the league title.

Rossi was named MLS Player of the Week after scoring two goals in the rout at RSL.

“He’s a fantastic player,” LAFC defender Steven Beitashour said. “There’s a reason we brought him here. He’s young, energetic (and) when he gets in front of goal he’s pretty clinical.”

JOSUE COLMAN, ORLANDO CITY: The 19-year-old attacking midfielder is also from Uruguay, and Orlando hopes he can help replace retired Brazilian star Kaka. He last played for Cerro Porteno, helping the team to the Clausura title in 2017. He started in 28 games with one goal.

Colman missed much of the preseason with a quad contusion, but is expected to make his debut at the end of the month.

EZEQUIEL BARCO, ATLANTA UNITED: An 18-year-old midfielder, Barco was acquired for an MLS-record $15 million transfer fee from Independiente. Barco was with the Argentine club for two seasons, making 38 appearances with five goals.

Unfortunately for United, he too has been sidelined for four to six weeks by a right quadriceps strain he sustained during preseason training.

JESUS MEDINA, NYCFC: A 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Paraguay, Medina comes to NYCFC on a transfer from Club Libertad. He took the designated player roster spot left open when Andrea Pirlo retired.

Medina scored in NYCFC’s 2-0 season-opening victory over Sporting Kansas City and was key to both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Galaxy.

While pleased with her performance, coach Patrick Vieira is willing to take his time in helping Medina develop.

“He has come into a country where he doesn’t speak the language and the culture is different. He will need time to adapt himself. We have the support in our football club to help him go through the difficult period that he will face,” Vieira said.

SAPHIR TAIDER: MONTREAL IMPACT: The 26-year-old central midfielder from Algeria came to the Impact after three seasons with Bologna in Italy. Taider has also played for the Algerian national team since 2013, and played in the World Cup in Brazil the next year.

He was called up to the national team for a pair of exhibition games against Tanzania and Iran later this month.

KAKU GAMARRA, NEW YORK RED BULLS: The 23-year-old, whose full name is Alejandro Romero Gamarra, comes to the Red Bulls from Argentina’s Club Atletico Huracan, which joined the top division in 2015.

Kaku got an assist on the first goal of New York’s 4-0 win at home Saturday over the Portland Timbers.

“I’m very happy, I felt very well and to be honest the team had a great game,” Kaku said through a translator after the game.

SANTIAGO MOSQUERA, FC DALLAS: Mosquera’s arrival in MLS was long rumored before he signed as a young designated player with Dallas in February. The 23-year-old attacker comes from Colombia’s first division Millonarios FC.

“Like I’ve been saying, it will be nice to play offensively here,” Mosquera said after the team’s opener, a 1-1 draw with Salt Lake. “I know that my styles are also made for this type of soccer. I hope to adapt as quickly as possible to bring more opportunities to the team.”

ANDY POLO, PORTLAND TIMBERS: The 23-year-old winger is on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

A native of Peru, Polo played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals. He could be World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

Polo was just called up this week for a pair of exhibition matches against Croatia and Iceland.

MILTON VALENZUELA, COLUMBUS CREW: The 19-year-old defender was acquired on loan from Newell’s Old Boys in the Argentine top division. The Crew has an option to purchase his contract after this season.

Valenzuela started in the Crew’s 2-0 season-opening victory over Toronto FC and had an assist.

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