2019 MLS Week 19 Preview — Houston (8-3-7) vs. Los Angeles FC (13-4-2)

Carlos Vela shows no signs of slowing down and neither does Los Angeles FC.

Trying to run away in the race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield and the top spot in the Western Conference, Vela and LAFC look for a third straight win Friday night when they square off with the Houston Dynamo.

Vela, who appears to have closed the door on his international career with Mexico after turning down Tata Martino to pass on playing in the Gold Cup, is enjoying the season of his career with LAFC (13-4-2). His 19 goals are his most in any season at the club level, eclipsing the 16 he netted for Real Sociedad in Spain’s La Liga in 2013-14.

Vela is currently six goals clear of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the race for the MLS Golden Boot and on pace to better Josef Martinez’s single-season MLS record of 31 set last year with Atlanta. Vela also paces the league with 12 assists and has a chance to become the third player in league history with 20 in a season – a feat accomplished only by Carlos Valderrama with Tampa Bay in 2000 (26) and Sacha Klejstan in 2016 with New York (20).

Vela, though, would also be the only player in MLS history to have 20 goals and 20 assists in a season should he maintain his current form. That includes a second-half brace and an assist Saturday in LAFC’s 6-1 mauling of the Vancouver Whitecaps. LAFC moved nine points ahead of their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Galaxy, for the top spot in the West and have rung up 11 goals in back-to-back victories.

“We’re in a good moment, we have lost only two games in 19 games,” Vela said post-match. “We are doing really good things, but the important thing is we want more. We know that if we don’t win the MLS Cup, this is nothing. We are trying to always give the ball to the best option … we try to move the ball to score goals. That’s the way LAFC plays and I hope we can continue in that way.”

LAFC did see their U.S. Open Cup run come to an end with a 1-0 quarterfinal loss at home to the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night, conceding in the 84th minute. Coach Bob Bradley opted for a full-strength first XI, so a heavy squad rotation could be in store with the quick turnaround and road trip.

Houston (8-3-7) is hoping a return home means better things as it seeks just a second win in eight matches. The Dynamo have only four points from their last seven contests (1-1-5) and suffered their fifth straight road defeat Saturday with a 3-2 loss at expansion side FC Cincinnati.

A late rally fell short as Houston closed within one goal on a penalty kick by Romell Quioto in the 79th minute and an own goal two minutes later. Houston had three corner kicks in the final nine minutes plus stoppage time, but the best chance – created by Kiki Struna’s redirect of a cross by Tommy McNamara – was pawed away by FCC keeper Spencer Richey.

“It was really painful the first half that we played,” Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera told the club’s official website after his squad rotation did not go as expected as Houston trailed 2-0 after 45 minutes. “I didn’t recognize the way we played in the first half.

“The second half we were very good, we were the Houston that we were expecting … We have proven to ourselves that we are a team that compete with any team, but we cannot have those lapses.”

Vela did not play in the first match between the teams last year, a 2-2 draw, but factored in all four of LAFC’s goals in a 4-2 victory in the most recent matchup Oct. 12, recording a brace around assists on goals by Adama Diomande and Walker Zimmerman.

(Adama Diomande photo courtesy LAFC official Twitter account)

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