Marco Fabián has been close friends with Carlos Vela since they were teenagers in Guadalajara, Mexico. Back then, they were teammates in the youth academy of superpower club Chivas, taking their first steps toward soccer stardom.
They’ve traveled the world together and separately in the decade-and-a-half since then. Fabián played with with Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, and Vela with England’s Arsenal, Spain’s Real Sociedad and other clubs.
Yet the two men, both now 30, have never played against each other.
It might finally happen on Saturday in Chester. Fabián is expected to line up for the Union, and Vela is scheduled to return from a hamstring injury for Los Angeles Football Club when the teams meet at Talen Energy Stadium (7:30 p.m., PHL17).
“I’m excited because, for me, he’s one of the best players not just in Mexico and MLS, in the world,” Fabián said. “But also, he’s like my brother. He’s one of my best friends, and I have a lot of memories with him.”
Fabián and Vela have played with each other plenty as longtime Mexican national team colleagues. They were at the 2017 Confederations Cup, the 2018 World Cup and dozens of other games over the years.
Yet oddly, most of their shared experiences have come in training sessions. They’ve played together in official games only five times, and they’ve only started together once, a 2017 World Cup qualifier against the United States at Mexico City’s famed Estadio Azteca.
U.S. fans remember that game for the Americans’ earning a rare good result on Mexican soil. Vela scored after Michael Bradley’s opener to produce a 1-1 tie.
“It is always nice to see good friends," Vela said. "Marco has a lot of quality and has shown it during his time in Europe, with Mexico, and now here in MLS. I’m happy he’s here. Tomorrow should be a good matchup. They are a really good team, [and] we are all looking forward to the game.”
Vela left Chivas at 16, more than a decade before Fabián did. Arsenal signed Vela in the autumn of 2005, just weeks after he led Mexico to that year’s FIFA under-17 World Cup title. He was the tournament’s top scorer, was labeled a phenom, and stayed in Europe until joining LAFC last year.
Fabián went to Eintracht Frankfurt in 2016. In between the transfers, another Chivas teammate moved abroad: Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Mexico’s biggest star of all.
All three players are still revered in Guadalajara, where Chivas is a civic institution. The club’s fans are well aware that Fabián’s contract with the Union locks him in for only this year, with team options for 2020 and 2021. His Instagram posts often draw comments from Chivas fans who hope he’ll come home.
“Half of my heritage is with Chivas,” Fabian said. “I’m always close to the fans of Chivas, and you see still now a lot of fans. They love me. They miss me and everything. ... I’m really grateful because I have a lot of memories.”
But the future is for another day. Right now, Fabián is getting ready for one of the biggest games in his current team’s history, with his close friend, Vela, across the field.
“Tomorrow is one day I [will] never forget,” Fabián said. “I’m happy to share the pitch with him. But of course I want to win. I play with my team, and this moment, in these 90 minutes, I want to win.”