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LAFC star Carlos Vela will not play in the MLS tournament in Orlando

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

LOS ANGELES -- LAFC's Carlos Vela, the reigning MLS scoring champion and MVP, will not take part in the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando, handing the league another setback in its push to become the first major professional sports league in the U.S. to return to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

LAFC is scheduled to leave Monday for Florida, and according to a person with knowledge of the situation, Vela would not be on the charter flight, choosing to remain home with his pregnant wife, Saioa, and the couple's 3-year-old son, Romeo. The person requested anonymity because he is not authorized to comment, and LAFC officials declined to comment.

MLS gave players the opportunity to skip the five-week tournament, which kicks off Wednesday, for health or family reasons. Vela, LAFC's captain and the league's fourth-best-paid player with a salary of $6.3 million in 2019, is the highest-profile player to opt out.

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the Galaxy's highest-paid player, also has a pregnant wife but he is expected to accompany the team to Florida on Monday. Both teams play their first game July 13.

Vela, 31, broke the league's scoring mark last year with 34 goals in 31 games while leading LAFC to the best single-season record in MLS history. He scored in both LAFC games this season, giving him goals in 11 consecutive appearances. His 50 goals in two-plus seasons are the most ever in the MLS by a Mexican-born player.

His absence will rob the league's 54-game made-for-TV tournament of perhaps its biggest draw, but that's not the only setback the MLS has suffered in its push to return. In the last eight days at least 12 players and two staff members from three teams have tested posted for the coronavirus inside the league's protective bubble. The league's latest round of testing, however, found just two positives in 1,191 tests, the lowest number in more than a week.

Four days before the tournament opener two teams remain in quarantine, unable to train, forcing the league to push back FC Dallas' first game.

Commissioner Don Garber said the league stands to lose as much as $1 billion to the pandemic, which led MLS to join the NHL, NBA and MLB in suspending play in early March, two games into its season. MLS hoped to recoup some of that loss by getting its teams back on national TV this week, nearly three weeks ahead of other leagues.

But since MLS announced its plan for a restart behind closed doors at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, COVID-19 cases have surged in Florida. The state reported more than 21,500 cases over the weekend, a record.

 

With Vela unavailable, LAFC coach Bob Bradley probably will turn to Adama Diomande, the team's second-leading scorer in 2018, and winter signing Bradley Wright-Phillips, a two-time MLS scoring champion. Both players missed the team's first two games this season with injury.

"Brad is making progress in training every day," Bradley said of Wright-Phillips, who underwent off-season surgery for a sports hernia. "We're excited with what he can bring to our team."

Vela isn't the first professional athlete who has elected to sit out because of COVID-19 concerns. Women's World Cup stars Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Tobin Heath are not playing in the NWSL Challenge Cup because of coronavirus fears.

Dodgers pitcher David Price announced Saturday he would not play this season, joining Mike Leake of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ian Desmond of the Colorado Rockies, and Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross of the Washington Nationals. The Angels' Mike Trout, whose wife Jessica is expecting the couple's first child next month, and Giants catcher Buster Posey remain uncertain whether they'll be in uniform when the baseball season opens in late July. The Lakers' Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler of the Brooklyn Nets are among NBA players who won't be playing when the season resumes in Orlando later this month.

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