Denis Bouanga acquisition makes LAFC MLS Cup title contenders

LAFC, which already had more weapons than the US Army, added another Friday when it announced the signing of striker Denis Bouanga, who spent five seasons in the French first division.

It was like giving Hercules more brawn or Einstein more brains. And it has turned what is arguably the best team in MLS this season into one of the best teams in MLS history.

Well, one of the best teams without a title anyway.

Filling that title gap now becomes a challenge for LAFC, who topped the league in wins and points and second in goals over the weekend. It led MLS in all three categories in 2019, breaking or tying three league records en route to a Supporters’ Shield (best league record).

Still, the team has just one playoff win to boast of for that excellence.

LAFC Saint-Etienne reportedly paid a $5 million transfer fee for Bouanga and then signed him until 2025, just before the secondary transfer window closed. He is LAFC’s first designated player in three years and will make anything but an MLS Cup a failure this fall as General John Thorrington has done an excellent job creating a roster that is deep at every position.

“Thanks to LAFC and the organization. It’s put together an amazing squad, a very deep one,” said coach Steve Cherundolo, who now has no excuses. “It’s one that we’ve come to know and we know how to use.”

In the last two months, Thorrington has signed Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini, who led his country to the last European Championship, and Wales captain Gareth Bale, a five-time Champions League winner, for about what Galaxy is gifting the often-injured winger Douglas Costa. LAFC also signed Carlos Vela, the league’s top scorer in one season, to an 18-month contract extension.

It now adds 27-year-old Bouanga, a thriving Gabon international, to a frontline that already includes Vela; MVP candidate Cristian Arango, the team’s top scorer; and Uruguayan Brian Rodríguez. It’s an attack so stacked that Bale has yet to crack the starting lineup.

Denis Bouanga of Saint-Etienne controls the ball during a match in September 2020.

Denis Bouanga of Saint-Etienne controls the ball during a match in September 2020.

(Daniel Cole/Associated Press)

“You could argue that they just had the best transfer window anyone has ever had,” said Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey. “I truly believe that John is one of the best GMs in the league.”

But it’s Lagerwey and the Sounders who remain the league’s gold standard, having won two MLS Cups and a CONCACAF Champions League in the last seven seasons and knocked LAFC out of the playoffs twice.

“The goal for all of us is clearly the MLS Cup and it makes perfect sense that LAFC are committed to winning it,” said Lagerwey. “Yeah, they had a couple of good teams. But they haven’t won that yet.”

That’s what this season’s remodeling was all about. And Thorrington has been masterful, amassing more than $1.6 million in allotment funds in a series of deals that began last summer and then using that money to buy goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, defender Francisco Escobar and midfielder for the national team to acquire Kellyn Acosta.

That summer he added Chiellini and Bale, once football’s most expensive players, to TAM deals worth $1.5 million each – a contractual sleight of hand so extraordinary that a rival suggested Thorrington cheat.

“One of the hardest things about this league is having an extensive roster,” said Will Kuntz, LAFC’s vice president of soccer operations. “Due to the way the rules are structured, spending is limited. So our takeaways after four years were that we can keep our philosophy of having a young core of exciting players who can play the style but maybe complement with some more experienced veteran players who have been in the league, that actually helps.”

However, all of this means nothing if LAFC falls short again in the postseason.

“The pressure is on,” said Kuntz, who began his career with the New York Yankees at a time when anything but a World Series title was unacceptable. “But I think that’s something we assume we have these standards for. This level of public focus directed at us mobilizes us and we’re really excited about it.”

“LA is like New York,” he continued. “It’s a ‘what have you done for me lately, city.’ What we’ve done now is we’ve adjusted the springboard a little higher. So when we do a belly flop it’s louder and more people see it.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-08-05/lafc-mls-cup-denis-bouanga-gareth-bale Denis Bouanga acquisition makes LAFC MLS Cup title contenders

Emma Bowman

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