I am not going to lie. Living in Austin is pretty damn nice. Occasionally my professional obligations would afford me the opportunity to visit with one Darrell K. Royal, a venerable Texas legend. For those who are not familiar, Coach Royal was the man in charge of the University of Texas Football team for 18 years, up until his retirement in 1976. He did alright, all they did at the Forty Acres was name the stadium after him. So why am I bringing up Coach Royal in a soccer blog, moreover, a Mexican soccer blog? Well, it cuz he is so damn quotable. You might have heard a few of his proverbs - "Dance with the one that brung ya" is probably his most repeated. "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" is another one.
One of my favorites - "He's faster than small town gossip."
He had this to see about a player with potential "Potential means you ain't done it yet." I couldn't think of better way to encapsulate Carlos Vela's career coming into this season. The Arsenal winger had gone on loan to Real Sociedad for the year. This came after another loan spell over at West Brom, where the young Mexican saw his playing time evaporate with a coaching change. The lack of action kept him from playing for Mexico last summer in the Gold Cup. It did not help that Vela developed a reputation for not only being fragile, but a one who enjoyed his off the field life a little too much.
So it was do or die for Vela in San Sebastián, which was a little sad for a player who had shown so much, you know, potential. And when minutes were hard to come by for him at the first of the season, those questioning his abilities began to trumpet his demise. Was it all over for Vela? All that potential - but he hadn't "...done it" Had he peaked too soon?
He started appearing in the starting line ups with more regularity, and then he started doing it. Throughout the course of the season, Vela has become the Txuri-urdin's offensive conduit. Almost half of the team's goals have either been scored by or set up by Vela; 10 goals and 7 assists. In other words, he finally started living up to his potential. His play has been as "smooth as smoke through a keyhole"
Real Sociedad has been so impressed, they are trying to figure out a way to make the loan move permanent - a move Vela would welcome.
To sum up, he is having the best season by a CONCACAF player in Europe by a player not named Clint Dempsey.
As far as the national team is concerned, it could not have come at a better time. Last spring, it was Giovani Dos Santos who was able to rev up his game with a loan spell in Spain. His good form carried over into the Gold Cup, where Giovani was a big piece of Mexico's offensive juggernaut. Unfortunately for Gio and for Mexico, Gio has been Carbonited at Tottenham, and there is no guarantee he will be in position to make a difference in June in games that really matter.
Vela has enough versatility that can easily step into the playmaker role for Mexico. And there is the rub. Carlos Vela has not played for the National Team in over a year, and rumors of a rift between Vela and coach, Chepo de la Torre have run wild. Vela was called up for the February friendly, but asked permission to be released from the call.
Which, of course, only fueled the speculation of the friction between the two.
Some more sensible parties reported that the reason Vela had declined the call was because he needed a certain amount of minutes at Real Sociedad to help make his loan move permanent, but we'll never know the real reason.
Regardless of what has happened or hasn't, Vela has done more than enough not only to merit a call, but also take Gio's spot in the starting XI.
"Dance with the one that brung ya" may not apply just yet, but there are still plenty of opportunities to twirl around the floor for both Chepo and Vela.