Bouanga’s late goal beats Portland, lifts LAFC to 5th in West

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Denís Bouanga nets stoppage time goal to defeat Portland Timbers and former teammate Maxime Crepeau at BMO Stadium in their final regular season rivalry match of 2024 MLS season.

LOS ANGELES — A stoppage time goal from the 2023 MLS Golden Boot winner Denís Bouanga clinched the 3-2 win for LAFC against the Portland Timbers as the Black and Gold held their undefeated home record in their 10th match of the 2024 MLS regular season. The result also lengthened their unbeaten streak to four. ” I just hate to lose. I just want to win. I’m addicted to victory,” Bouanga offered at the post-match presser. “I know if I can score in the 94th minute, I do everything. I love to hear the fans here shouting my name, shouting the team’s name, and everybody. That’s why I was fired up.”

LAFC entered the match with the onus of responsibility upon them – winless in two straight matches, defending an unbeaten record at home, languishing in 8th place in the west and needing to prove themselves worthy of their newest global signing sensation, Olivier Giroud who is set to join the team in the summer transfer window.

The difference maker between Portland and LAFC was Bouanga’s 7th shot at goal during the course of the long duel between the two Western Conference clubs, and it marked his 6th goal of the season, putting him at 6th place in the current season’s race to the top of the scorer’s list, three goals behind the effusive Lionel Messi. Yet in spite of LAFC looking solid and stable in 5th place in the conference standings with the end result, the overall sense was that they played two very different halves revealing much to be desired in the team’s defensive awareness, and with a goal differential of just 2, the weakness is glaringly obvious. Head coach Steven Cherundolo, known for his detail-oriented and strategic defensive upbringing, pointedly remarked on the flaws his team has shown this season.

“I think in the second half we made some really poor decisions on the ball.  More specifically our attackers and our 8s trying to go too fast, losing track of staying connected with and without the ball, moving forward as a group, controlling the game again, taking the sting out, taking the tempo out,” he explained. “Those 35 minutes of the second half are not what we want to see. It’s a step in the wrong direction. That’s what I shared with the guys. I was quite disappointed with it. It’s not professional. and totally unnecessary. Too may guys are cheating and being lazy defensively, and not following rules, and they get themselves in trouble against teams who have attacking pieces who can beat you with shots or set pieces.”

LAFC began with a hefty offensive style, one reminiscent of their award-laden past symbolic structure that started under the franchise’s first head coach, Bob Bradley. In the 25th minute VAR ruled a Bouanga goal offside. But in the 44th minute, he sent a ball towards the box that ended up bouncing off the Timbers’ Kamal Miller into the back of the net. The home side wasn’t ready to end the first half yet doubling down on their lead with a goal when Cristian Olivera ran down the pitch and into the box before sending it to Timothy Tillman who slotted it home. The goal was Tillman’s 4th of the season which equals his record from last season.

Yet, the Timbers had LAFC’s number for most of the second half, as first Jonathan Rodriguez cut the LA lead in half in the 65th minute, then in the 73rd minute, as Santiago Moreno grabbed a badly cleared ball and shot it past Hugo Lloris, to equalize the score at 2-apiece. The ghosts of their previous match were taunting and threatening to give a point to each team.

But, just as stoppage time got underway, LAFC was gifted a chance at redemption as a corner kick header effort from substitute Kei Kamara landed to the left an in perfect position for a charging Bouanga, hungry to help his team, to pounce upon. And score he did, as the ball bounced off the back post into the net past a helpless Max Crepeau. Despite that final blow, the Canadian international, in his first return to BMO Stadium since being traded to Portland, had eight saves compared with Lloris’s three and even Cherundolo noted that he had an applaudable performance in that return.

The Black and Gold are unbeaten after six matches at home and on a four-matches unbeaten streak. They climb to 5th place in the conference standings and more than two-thirds of the MLS season remain. With a laundry list of improvements needed to jumpstart a more cohesive full 90-minute strategy, Cherundolo will likely begin honing in on developing their overall defensive diligence and discipline. But, the missing pieces extend beyond that. Without any of their LAFC originals remaining, the team is inherently searching for a new identity and ethos. Even their top goal scorer, as eager as he is to win and impress, has work to do if he intends to compete with the greatest player in the world for a second straight Golden Boot caliber season. “It’s not so much that he needs to improve, a player of his age and his ability,” Cherundolo pauses, to elaborate. “It’s more of just being consistent with his decision-making along the lines of our game model.” After years of success with their old model, it will be interesting to see what LAFC’s game transforms into this year. Their next regular season MLS match is at Levi’s Stadium against San Jose Earthquakes on May 4th at 7:30pm PT.  

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