Major League Soccer

LAFC’s Tomás Ángel hopes to continue following his father’s path

LAFC's Tomás Ángel hopes to continue following his father's path

Tomás Ángel, a reserve forward for LAFC, gestures after scoring for Colombia during a FIFA U-20 World Cup game against Slovakia. (Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press)

It’s an accomplishment born more of chance than a plan. It’s more serendipity than statistic and so trivial that even Tomás Ángel didn’t know he had made history when he came off the bench for the final 14 minutes of LAFC’s first road game this season.

Ángel is the son of former Colombia striker Juan Pablo Ángel, who played for the Galaxy and Chivas USA during a six-season MLS career. So when Tomás made his LAFC debut in March, the Ángels became the only family to have members play for all three of Southern California’s MLS franchises.

“It’s like a coincidence,” Tomás said after a recent LAFC training session, accepting the news with more of a shrug than a celebration.

“I didn’t even think about it,” his father, equally unmoved, said by phone from Colombia.

Still it’s an accomplishment, and one that might never be equaled since Chivas USA disbanded hours after the 2014 season, with LAFC emerging Phoenix-like from the ashes four years later. But what Tomás, 21, really wants to do is follow his father to an MLS Cup final, something only two other father-son duos — Alex and Teal Bunbury and Gregg and Sebastian Berhalter — have done.

First, however, he’ll need to earn some playing time. On the LAFC depth chart at forward, Ángel is behind Denis Bouanga, the reigning MLS scoring champion, Mateusz Bogusz, Cristian Olivera and Kei Kamara, who have combined for 27 goals this season. As a result, Ángel has made just three MLS appearances off the bench — none lasting as long as 15 minutes — in his rookie season, though he scored three minutes after coming on in Saturday’s 6-2 rout of San Jose, a win that lifted LAFC to the top of the Western Conference table.

Read more: Kei Kamara passes Landon Donovan's MLS goals mark as LAFC routs San José

That goal, Ángel’s first in MLS, made more history since he and his father are just the 10th father-son duo to both score in an MLS regular-season game, and the only pair to do so for L.A. teams.

Even so, getting on the field could become even more difficult for Ángel when Olivier Giroud, the French national team’s all-time leading scorer, arrives from Europe next month.

“That’s why I work every day, try to give my best in training, to have those opportunities,” he said. “As a player, you would like to play more.”

Ángel’s decision to sign with LAFC in January led to a homecoming of sorts, although Tomás could say that about a lot of cities. Since his father played for six teams in five cities and four countries, the younger Ángel, the second of three sons, was well-traveled by the time his father retired as a player in 2014. He was born in Birmingham, England, where his father played for Aston Villa, grew up in New York and went to elementary school in Southern California.

“I have childhood memories being at the beach, really experiencing everything that Los Angeles brings,” he said. “Football-wise, I don’t have a lot of memories.”

He started building those football memories at 10, when the family moved back to Colombia and Tomás joined the academy program at Atlético Nacional, his father’s first team. He made his first-team debut in January 2021, and after playing in 24 games in 2023, scoring five goals, he said he drew offers from multiple MLS clubs.

LAFC had an inside track, though, not only because of Ángel’s fond memories of Los Angeles but also because his father works for the club, helping manage negotiations with teams in South America. It’s been a profitable relationship for LAFC, which has seven South Americans on its roster.

But the decision on where to go, Tomás said, was left to him.

Tomás Ángel, right, tries to control a pass from a Colombia teammate during a FIFA U-20 World Cup game against Slovakia. (Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)

“I really thought that this team, in particular, could help me grow because of the players that were here. And obviously the city has a lot of influence because as a soccer player, it’s not only about soccer,” he said. “When you finish your training, you have a life. This city is amazing.”

Still, it’s a city he hopes to be passing through. His ultimate aim is to play in Europe, as his father did. By virtue of his British birth, the younger Ángel has a U.K. passport and his left arm sports a huge tattoo of Big Ben. (He also has one of the Brooklyn Bridge, homage to four years spent in New York.) But while his father went from Colombia to Argentina to England, that route has become more difficult. The preferred journey now goes through MLS.

“The league nowadays is a completely different league,” said the elder Ángel, 48, who last week made his Copa América broadcast debut as a studio analyst with Fox Sports. “We used to use Argentina as a bridge to be able to make it to Europe. Now I think MLS serves that purpose for South Americans, particularly from Colombia.”

Tomás agrees, saying his father’s experience has influenced his own career.

“It’s a tool you can have with a person who has gone through a lot of things,” he said. “So it’s normal to have these conversations when tough times are coming and all that.”

As for the history the family has made in Southern California, the region now has a women’s professional team, Angel City, an even more appropriate club name for someone with the surname Ángel. But there’s no chance the family will have someone playing there until Tomás has children of his own.

“I don’t have a daughter,” his father said.

You have read the latest installment of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and shines a spotlight on unique stories. Listen to Baxter on this week’s episode of the “Corner of the Galaxy” podcast.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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