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Denis Bouanga’s late goal secures LAFC’s victory over Dallas

Los Angeles FC forward Mahala Opoku reacts after missing a goal shot against FC Dallas during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Denis Bouanga, left, kicks the ball defended by FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, right, during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC midfielder Timothy Tillman, left, controls the ball defended by FC Dallas forward Katlego Ntsabeleng, right, during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC midfielder Timothy Tillman, right, moves the ball past FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, left, during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

FC Dallas midfielder Ema Twumasi, left, receive a red card after a video review of a foul he committed against the Los Angeles FC during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

FC Dallas head coach Nico Estévez, center, yells at his team players during the first half of an MLS match against the Los Angeles FC at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela, center, chases the ball after it is deflected by FC Dallas goalkeeper Maarten Paes, left, during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Mahala Opoku, right, moves the ball up the pitch defended by FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, right, during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC midfielder Ryan Hollingshead, left, kicks the ball defended by FC Dallas defender Nkosi Tafari, right, during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC midfielder Kellyn Acosta, center, kicks the ball against FC Dallas during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini kicks the ball against FC Dallas during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

FC Dallas defender Nkosi Tafari, second from right, kicks the ball for a goal past Los Angeles FC goalkeeper John McCarthy, center, during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

FC Dallas defender Nkosi Tafari, left, celebrates with teammates after he scores a goal against the Los Angeles FC during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC head coach Steve Cherundolo, center, looks on during the second half of an MLS match against FC Dallas at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini, right, heads the ball defended by FC Dallas forward Alan Velasco during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Stipe Biuk, right, kicks the ball against FC Dallas during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Stipe Biuk, center, battles for the ball against FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, left, and defender Sebastien Ibeagha, right, during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela, right, kicks the ball defended by FC Dallas defender Marco Farfan, left, during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Mahala Opoku, left, vies for the ball against FC Dallas defender Nkosi Tafari, right, during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC midfielder Timothy Tillman dribbles the ball against FC Dallas during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini, left, heads the ball against FC Dallas forward Jesús Jiménez, right, during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela, center, controls the ball against FC Dallas during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC defender Sergi Palencia, back, vies for the ball against FC Dallas forward Jáder Obrian, front, during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC defender Sergi Palencia, right, dribbles defended by FC Dallas forward Jáder Obrian, left, during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC midfielder Timothy Tillman, center, kicks the ball past FC Dallas defender Nkosi Tafari, left, for a goal during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC midfielder Timothy Tillman, center, celebrates with teammates after Tillman scores a goal against the FC Dallas during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Denis Bouanga, right, celebrates with midfielder Kellyn Acosta, left, after Bouanga scores a goal against FC Dallas during the second half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC goalkeeper John McCarthy, left, catches the ball against FC Dallas during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC forward Stipe Biuk, front, dribbles the ball defended by FC Dallas defender Nkosi Tafari, back, during the first half of an MLS match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

A Los Angeles FC fan holds up a scarf prior to the start of an MLS match between the Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC fans hold up a banner prior to the start of an MLS match between the Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC starters huddle during the first half of an MLS match against FC Dallas at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Yellow smoke flies in the north end supporters section during the first half of an MLS match between the Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

An Los Angeles FC fans cheers during the second half of an MLS match between the Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles FC fans cheer while gray smokes fills the air during the second half of an MLS match against FC Dallas at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Los Angeles FC won 2-1. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr., Contributing Photographer)

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LOS ANGELES — Deep in the home stretch of last year’s championship season, the Los Angeles Football Club visited Dallas with a month to go hoping to lock down the Supporters’ Shield and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

After defender Ryan Hollingshead picked up an early red card, LAFC battled to a late 1-0 lead until Dallas’ stunning two-goal comeback.

In the end, the Black & Gold departed Texas with something more valuable than the three points they coughed up that night.

“That’s the beauty of football,” said LAFC center back Jesus Murillo, who joined the rest of his teammates by being caught off guard when Dallas scored the equalizer off a quick restart following a foul. “It gives you a lesson every game.”

The key takeaway: lacking concentration for a mere moment can ruin everything.

“I think it served us good to shift our mentality for the rest of the season,” Murillo said.

That awareness boosted LAFC to its first MLS Cup. And through four matches of the 2023 league campaign, an unbeaten streak now includes a 2-1 victory over Dallas.

Saturday’s result at BMO Stadium gave LAFC three victories and a draw in MLS this month, along with a berth into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Saturday’s game-winner came courtesy of Denis Bouanga, who was with the Gabonese national team in Africa the day before.

“I have high objectives for myself and the group,” said the Frenchman. “I believe we have a fantastic group. We can do it back-to-back, and I want to help us do it.”

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Denis Bouanga has LAFC poised to advance in CONCACAF Champions League

On Thursday, Bouanga played 90 minutes in Gabon’s 1-0 African Cup of Nations qualifier victory over Sudan. Two days later, following a 13-hour flight from Turkey, Bouanga arrived at Los Angeles International Airport a couple of hours before kickoff. By a quarter to 7, he made it to BMO Stadium, where the team was in the middle of its pregame meeting.

“You never know in what condition a player comes back but certainly the door for Denis will always be open,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. “We were communicating with him at all times and he felt he could contribute. That speaks volumes for his character and attitude and, I guess, his love for LAFC because he said he really wanted to help and he really wanted to play and did everything in his power to make that happen.

“We’re ecstatic that he was able to do that and it also speaks for his professionalism. So Denis is in great form and you can see he loves being here and playing here and he was able to contribute once again.”

The dynamic 27-year-old Designated Player prevented what would have been a difficult-to-stomach draw considering LAFC controlled the balance of the match while Dallas played down a man for more than an hour. Following a video review by referee Lukasz Szpala, a hard elbow to the face of Sergi Palencia elevated a yellow card to a straight red on defender Ema Twumasi.

“Questionable one but it didn’t go in our favor,” said Dallas head coach Nico Estévez, who picked up a yellow card on the sidelines during first-half stoppage time and afterward quibbled with Szpala’s decision regarding Twumasi.

To that point, LAFC was quick to pressure the visitors on their attacking side of the field. Cherundolo’s group pressed high for the first 15 minutes, creating turnovers in dangerous spots, one of which led to midfielder Timothy Tillman’s second goal of the season 134 seconds after the opening whistle — the fifth fastest in club history.

Dallas (2-2-1, 7 points) appeared to tie the game in the 18th minute when it caught LAFC scrambling on a counter attack. A blocked shot by star forward Jesus Ferreira rebounded to the top of the circle, where Edwin Cerrillo beat John McCarthy. Szpala disallowed the goal when he ruled following a video review that forward Jader Obrian screened McCarthy from an offside position.

Dallas eventually broke through in the 73rd minute, when defender Nkosi Tafari snapped LAFC’s scoreless streak dating back its league opener against Portland on March 4.

LAFC (3-0-1, 10 points) created numerous chances, including a penalty attempt by Carlos Vela when the captain was fouled in the box.

Vela, however, hit his shot off the crossbar, keeping the match level until Bouanga scored from an impossible angle in the 84th minute.

Gathering a corner kick that overshot LAFC attackers, Bouanga immediately fired in a cross and the trajectory of the ball curled toward the near post. Guarded by goalkeeper Maarten Paes and former LAFC defender Sebastien Ibeagha, who received his MLS Cup championship ring prior to the contest, Bouanga’s third goal of the MLS season (and sixth overall including CONCACAF) missed his former teammate and flew through Paes’s legs into the back of the net.

“I felt really good right when I stepped in the building and saw my teammates and the supporters with the atmosphere of game day,” Bouanga said. “When I stepped in I did what I had to do to find that goal that came at the right moment for the team.”

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