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Carlos Vela welcomes challenge of being LAFC’s first player

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carlos Vela was intrigued and surprised when Los Angeles Football Club approached him several weeks ago to join an MLS expansion franchise that doesn’t have a uniform, a completed stadium or any other players.

“It’s crazy and it’s strange,” Vela said. “It’s like, `OK, I can play alone if you want.’ I’m the first. You feel like they’re building the team around you. I feel cool, you know?”

Vela will have to get used to feeling strange and cool as he embarks on this unique journey with LAFC.

For instance, during his introductory news conference Friday, the Mexican winger received a T-shirt with his name on it from LAFC co-owner Will Ferrell while standing under the Space Shuttle Endeavour inside the California Science Center, just across the park from LAFC’s under-construction arena, which will be ready in March.

The 28-year-old Vela is now the centerpiece of a franchise with only one player so far, but deep pockets and global ambition.

The charismatic speedster brings a scoring acumen honed over the last six years at La Liga’s Real Sociedad. He will stay with that San Sebastian club through January before moving stateside.

“I think it was the right moment to come here, because the ambition of this team is very good,” Vela said. “The people make me feel like this is my club, like I am important, and I want to be an important player. I hope I can be one of the best players in the league.”

While Vela is taking a financially rewarding leap of faith, LAFC coach Bob Bradley is eager to build a team with Vela as its foundation.

“It’s a statement that reaffirms what the club is all about – the values, the connection with the city,” said Bradley, who joined the franchise two weeks ago. “And it’s a statement about what we want our football to be like, because when you have a player like Carlos who’s capable of scoring great goals, of setting up great goals – a player that when he has the ball at his feet, the stadium rises because you know good things will happen – this is what we want to be about.”

Vela’s combination of world-class finishing skills and Mexican heritage made him nearly ideal for LAFC’s plans to make a splash in the nation’s second-largest city, particularly among its vast Latino population. Vela said he has been interested in playing in Los Angeles for years, but it is even more intriguing now because his extended Mexican family can easily visit his 8-month-old son, Romeo, and his Spanish girlfriend, Saioa Canibano.

“It’s very important, because you have a lot of Mexicans in LA, and you feel like you’re at home,” Vela said. “All the people love LA. All my friends are jealous because I am here.”

While Mexican national team coach Juan Carlos Osorio has encouraged his top players to compete in Europe, Vela had no qualms about moving to MLS after speaking with Giovani Dos Santos, his El Tri teammate and a forward for the LA Galaxy.

Although Vela is now crosstown rivals with Dos Santos and his younger brother, Galaxy midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos, he thinks this town is big enough for three good friends on two clubs.

“Gio told me all the great things about the league, about the city, about the country,” Vela said. “He said it was all good, and I said, `Why not?”‘

Vela has spent his entire professional career in Europe, starting at Arsenal and moving on loan to several clubs before logging the past six seasons at Sociedad. Vela and LAFC general manager John Thorrington both said that Vela had been pursued by several teams during the summer transfer window, attracting interest in Spain, Italy and England.

“Not only did we choose him, but he chose us in the face of competition from other clubs,” Thorrington said.

After attending a rally on Friday with fans of his new club, Vela is headed back to Spain to prepare for Sociedad’s season opener next weekend. He’ll have his eyes on LAFC’s progress this fall, but he intends to finish strong in San Sebastian.

“It’s a very important year, because I have six months (left) with a team I was playing with for six years,” Vela said. “It’s very emotional. I want to finish on a high level. I want to leave the team in a high position, and then it’s off to the new club to fight to win a title.”

La Liga & Serie A: Barca routs Deportivo, AC Milan routed

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 4-0 Deportivo

Although Lionel Messi’s stardom was rewarded prior to the match at the Camp Nou with the European Golden Shoe, the Argentine forward couldn’t crack the scoresheet one the game kicked off. That didn’t matter though, as Luis Suarez and Paulinho each bagged braces on the day to keep Barcelona six points clear of Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Messi, who had a penalty kick attempt saved in the second half, came close on several occasions, but couldn’t find the scoring touch for the Blaugrana.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Girona 1-0 Getafe
Celta Vigo 0-1 Villareal
Las Palmas 2-2 Espanyol


Hellas Verona 3-0 AC Milan

If AC Milan’s season wasn’t bad enough prior to Sunday, today’s performance at the Stadio Marc`Antonio Bentegodi could have only made the club’s outlook much, much worse. Hellas captured its third league win of the season, however, the team remains in 19th in Serie A despite picking up three points. Meanwhile, the Rossoneri fell to eight in Italy’s top flight, after Genaro Gattuso’s men were completely outplayed on the road. To make matters worse for the struggling side, Suso earned a straight red card in the dying minutes, leaving Milan to fend with 10 men.

Bologna 0-3 Juventus

At the top of Serie A, things are getting very intriguing as the season nears its halfway point. Juventus did its part to keep pressure on league leaders Napoli, but four teams currently sit within four points of one another at the league’s summit, making for a testy title race. Miralem Pjanic and Mario Mandzukic each scored before halftime, giving the Bianconeri a comfortable lead before the break. Meanwhile, ex-PSG man Blaise Matuidi capped off the game’s scoring in the 64th minute.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Atalanta 3-3 Lazio
Benevento 1-2 SPAL
Sampdoria 0-1 Sassuolo
Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa
Crotone 1-0 Chievo Verona

Charity match raised significant money for Hurricane Harvey victims

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On Saturday night, a charity soccer match in Houston, Texas helped raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

[ MORE: Liverpool batters Bournemouth to go fourth ]

The “Kick in for Houston” game was organized by former Houston Dynamo and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Stu Holden — now an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Holden served as one of the team captains, while former NBA star Steve Nash captained the other team.

In total, Holden’s event raised over $239,000 for hurricane relief funds, per the event’s website.

Saturday’s match featured several other notable celebrities and current, as well as, former soccer player, like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Mia Hamm and U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Kyle Martino.

The game — which was an 8 vs. 8 fixture — finished 12-12 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Holden spoke after the match about the overall success of the event, and the sort of impact it had for the Texas community.

“Amazing,” Holden said after the game. “If I pictured three months ago after I sent that tweet that this was going to be the turnout… everybody that came, all the athletes, all the people in the crowd, all the work that’s gone on behind the scenes, I can promise you it’s a lot more than it seems.

“I’m caught up in the middle of all this, but I thought this was an amazing, amazing night, and I hope to do another of these in the future.”

Additionally, Holden and Co. will be auctioning off game-worn kits from Saturday’s game to also benefit hurricane victims.

Rooney says Man City have work to do be better than ’08 Man United

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Perhaps it’s the bias talking from the former Red Devils star, but Wayne Rooney doesn’t believe the Premier League leaders have surpassed one of his ex-squads.

[ MORE: Liverpool smashes Cherries to go fourth ]

Despite Manchester City’s amazing unbeaten start over the club’s opening 18 matches, Rooney says his former rivals aren’t quite yet better than his 2008 Manchester United team that went on to beat Chelsea in the Champions League final.

“I’m not sure they [City] are quite there. They would have to keep going and do a lot more,” Rooney told TalkSPORT. “There have been so many great teams throughout the years in the Premier League. This City team needs to win trophies and needs to do it for a longer period to be in that bracket.

“The best ever? I would go with the Man United team from 2008!”

Only one Premier league side has ever finished a season undefeated in league play, which was accomplished by “The Invincibles” of Arsenal from the 2003/04 campaign.

With Man City nearly halfway to that feat, and accumulating 52 points through the first four-plus months of the domestic season, Pep Guardiola and Co. appear on track to track to break several records.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table in Man City’s world ]

However, Rooney says the balance of competitions and a tricky fixture schedule over the holiday window will make staying unbeaten an impossible task for the Cityzens.

“I don’t think they can go unbeaten,” he added. “They have done incredibly well with the run they have been on, but the Premier League is so difficult, especially now with this Christmas period coming up.

“I know they have a huge squad, a great squad of players. But there are so many top teams. I think in previous years it has been two teams and you went in knowing you would win most of the other games.

“But now there are five or six other teams that can all beat each other and I’m sure in one of those games Man City will get beaten.”

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.