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LAFC 2022 Player Postmortem: Denis Bouanga

Designated Player came through when it counted.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Portland Timbers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike most of LAFC’s big-splash additions to their roster in the middle of the 2022 season, Denis Bouanga was called on to play a major role immediately.

The attacker, a Gabonese international born and raised in France, had been rumored to be joining LAFC for weeks before the deal was sealed, no doubt former French powerhouse St. Etienne’s relegation to Ligue 2 convincing Bouanga it was time to make a move. Joining the black-and-gold at 27, he was far younger than the other imports, and after the deck chairs were reassembled, well, it was time for Bouanga to play.

Making his debut in the 2-1 road loss to the Houston Dynamo at the end of August, Bouanga looked like he had no chemistry with his teammates initially, and that’s because he didn’t. While we are used to Designated Players being thrown in the fray straightaway in MLS, LAFC had a track record of bringing players joining in the season along slowly. But with Brian Rodriguez sold to make way for Bouanga (and because Rodriguez was consistently looking to leave anyway) and Gareth Bale nowhere ready to play starter’s minutes, Bouanga was asked to step up and figure it out in a sink-or-swim scenario.

Here are Bouanga’s competitive stats with LAFC in 2022:

Denis Bouanga LAFC 2022 Statistics

2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 7 6 498 1 0 26 8 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 3 3 300 2 0 6 5 0 0
Total 10 9 798 3 0 32 13 0 0

He didn’t have a huge sample size, obviously the goals number doesn’t look like anything special, but it’s fair to say he did find the chemistry and figure things out on the fly. Plus, all three of his goals were significant.

The first was the biggest. While Bale’s goal in the MLS Cup Final will probably be the most remembered from this season (for good reason!), Bouanga’s debut goal, in the penultimate regular season game at the Portland Timbers, won LAFC the Supporters’ Shield.

Looking back, with LAFC in possession of the league double for the season, it can be easy to forget how close the Shield race turned out to be. In the end, LAFC won it on a tiebreaker, and while we’ll never know if they had lost the Shield if they still would have won MLS Cup, there’s no doubt clinching the Shield gave the group the much-needed belief they could indeed win MLS Cup this year.

Bouanga followed that unforgettable goal with a brace in the first playoff game, the El Trafico clash.

He actually had a role in all three goals, as his initial shot on the game-winner forced the save before Cristian Arango cleaned it up to win it in stoppage time.

He may have “only” had three goals on the season, but Bouanga was pretty much what LAFC were looking for to fill that wide forward spot. And his advanced stats are impressive. He ended up second on LAFC for the season and 16th in the league in ASA’s Goals+ metric, with +2.33 between the regular season and playoffs.

Bouanga’s scouting report graph on FBref.com is excellent, too. Aside from passing prowess, which isn’t really his game, he’s elite almost across the board, including on defense.

FBref.com

Obviously it’s all a small sample size and the big question is whether Bouanga can look as good or better across an entire season. Three goals in 10 games is a goal very roughly every three games or so, so if he plays 30 games, should we expect somewhere around 10 goals? Certainly, I think double-digit goals are a reasonable expectation for him in 2023. I don’t think he’ll ever contend for the MLS Golden Boot, but I do think he can be more consistent at scoring than Rodriguez, and as one of the top three scoring options for the team on the field? Absolutely, that’s why he’s a DP, after all.

So in a few short months Bouanga went from a newbie Designated Player who was asked to take a lot on right away, to a guy who put in major minutes down the stretch and in the playoffs, scoring a few key goals en route to a league double for LAFC. The future looks bright, and it looks like Denis Bouanga will be in the middle of the action moving forward for the black-and-gold.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.