Somehow, Denis Bouanga was the attacking player with the least sparkling resumé who joined LAFC in the summer transfer window, but as a Designated Player, his arrival came with plenty of pressure nonetheless.
While the likes of Gareth Bale and Cristian Tello have been getting up to speed and finding fitness since arriving with the black-and-gold, Bouanga found a starting role in short order after coming over from French side St. Etienne.
After five games in which he had fit into the lineup fairly seamlessly, albeit during the team’s worst stretch of the season, he had several close calls with a goal, but nothing. That changed in the 95th minute of Sunday’s game at the Portland Timbers, in which he opened his MLS account with the goal that won LAFC the 2022 Supporters’ Shield.
With that, Bouanga made sure he wrote his name in LAFC lore.
“This guy didn’t say it, but I’m gonna say it — he did a fantastic solo effort and managed to get a goal but it’s an amazing feeling for us, the group and for the city of Los Angeles,” said goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau after the game, as he did double duty being interviewed and translating for Bouanga in the press conference.
The goal was needed in the 2-1 win, because Carlos Vela’s opener was cancelled out down the stretch in the match by a Portland goal. Bouanga said that with the team having plenty of stoppage time to work with, they knew they could still get the victory.
“There’s seven minutes of added time and then we obviously needed a spark,” Bouanga said in French. “And so one thing that [I’m] really good at, is to come inside and provoke a little bit. [I] thought about curling it for the post and at the end of the day, that was my intention: cut inside, provoking. We’ve seen the result of it.”
“This goal comes at an amazing time, amazing timing for me, but as well as to give a treat to [my] teammates, to the city of Los Angeles, to our supporters. All the work that we’ve been together. Yes, it’s been for six games for the organization. But at the end of the day, there’s a [connection] for [me] into the organization and this is to give it back to the club and to the supporters,” Bouanga added.
Vela praised Bouanga’s ability to step up to the moment and to show his capacity to demonstrate his quality on the field.
But the captain emphasized that while the Shield is a worthy accomplishment and something to be proud of, the celebrations will remain muted as this LAFC team goes for more glory this year.
“When you do a good job — of course we decided to complicate our way to get it — but in the end I think we did a lot of good things and this is the reward to the team for all the effort. But this is the first step, this is the first the first trophy we want to win. Today we will celebrate, tomorrow maybe as well. But after that we have to be focusing on the playoffs because we know already then even if you win the Supporters’ Shield it’s nothing if you don’t win the MLS Cup, so I hope we will learn from that experience in the past and I hope we can do a better job in playoffs and win the trophy that really we want,” Vela said.
But no matter what happens, Denis Bouanga not only opened his account in style on Sunday, he made sure to permanently etch his name in LAFC’s history books. Here’s hoping there’s more moments like that on the way.
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