Denis Bouanga’s first career hat trick came in his memorable CONCACAF Champions League debut against LD Alajuelense last Thursday. The 28-year-old forward added two more goals to open the scoring in an equally dominant MLS win against New England on Sunday that highlighted the degree to which he will be counted on to produce for the Los Angeles Football Club in 2023.
Bouanga’s early efforts have “delighted” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo, who so far has utilized the in-prime attacker for all but one of the team’s 270 minutes.
“We knew he had that potential last year to score a lot of goals in this league and to be one of the best players in the league,” Cherundolo said. “Absolutely. Last year it didn’t click prolifically but he was still a very important piece of our championship team. And this year he is scoring and will continue to score. He is good.”
Bouanga might not have poured in goals immediately upon arriving in L.A. from Saint-Etienne last August, yet what he lacked in volume he more than made up for in value.
Waiting until his seventh appearance to get on the scoresheet, Bouanga’s Supporters’ Shield-clinching goal came deep into stoppage time on the road in Portland during the second to last week of the season.
He followed that up with two goals against the Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinals. Beginning with that effort, the physically gifted winger, who revels in running with the ball at his feet at defenders, has delivered three multi-goal contributions in six games.
Throughout the championship offseason in France and training camp in Southern California, Bouanga said he was prepared to play every four days for LAFC as it eyed a return to CONCACAF Champions League for the first time since 2020.
“I really have felt part of the group and I think that’s the strongness of LAFC,” Bouanga said. “It’s the mix and like everyone really wants to accomplish our goal.”
In its only other CCL appearance at BMO Stadium, LAFC was tasked with overcoming a two-goal deficit in the second leg of a series against Mexico’s Leon.
Thanks to Bouanga and their all-around performance last week in Costa Rica, Cherundolo’s group should feel far less stress than the 2020 team that clawed its way to the quarterfinals.
The defending MLS champions are likely to miss defender Ryan Hollingshead, who is considered day-to-day while the club monitors his progress following a chest injury on Sunday.
Hollingshead registered assists on LAFC’s first two goals in Costa Rica following long runs down the length of the field that gave him space to send clean, sharp passes across the box toward Bouanga at the far post.
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Advancing to the next round is the main objective, though Cherundolo also expects the group to remain aggressive in pursuit of a fourth win, making it seven straight for LAFC dating to its MLS Cup run.
“The situation can be tricky if our opponent has a bright start and we do not,” Cherundolo warned.
The onus will be on LD Alajuelense to win by three or more goals in order to turn the home-and-home series on its head in a venue where LAFC has dominated since 2018.
LAFC vs. LD ALAJUELENSE
What: CONCACAF Champions League, Round of 16 (second leg)
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: BMO Stadium
TV: FS2, TUDN