Addicted To Victory

A dominant first half and more stoppage-time heroics from Denis Bouanga gave LAFC another home victory headed into a challenging stretch of road games

LAFC POR Bounaga Tillman 04272024

“I really, really hate to lose,” Denis Bouanga said following Saturday’s 3-2 win over Portland before a sellout crowd at BMO Stadium. Based on his second-straight added-time goal, the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner doesn’t appear fond of draws, either.

Last weekend Bouanga pulled a point out of the jaws of defeat with a last-minute equalizer against the New York Red Bulls, and this week – facing a second straight tie at home – the 2023 MVP runner-up seized all three points for LAFC by banging a laser off the post and in during the second minute of stoppage time to defeat Portland, 3-2. The goal set off a raucous, Bouanga-led celebration reminiscent of the Black & Gold’s defeat of Houston in the Western Conference final five months ago.

“I've always been like that,” the French-born winger said through a translator. “I just hate to lose. I want to win. I'm addicted to victory. I know if I can score throughout the 94 minutes, I'll do everything. I love to hear the fans shouting my name, shouting the team's name … that's why I was fired up.”

It was a fitting end to an unbeaten April for LAFC, which will play four of its next five matches on the road. Bouanga can next feed his addiction this Saturday in San Jose against the Earthquakes (1W-8L-1D, 14th in the Western Conference), then four days later in its mid-week clash with the Las Vegas Lights in U.S. Open Cup play, on Wed. May 8.

Saturday marked the twentieth all-time meeting between LAFC and Portland, with the Timbers’ star playmaker, Evander, missing the match due to a lower body injury. Bouanga netted what looked like the opening goal in the 25th minute, but the play was reviewed and the goal was erased due to a handling infraction on midfielder Timmy Tillman in the build-up. Handball or no, Tillman’s clever through-ball to Bouanga typified the kind of creativity that has transformed one of the league’s toughest midfielders into one of its most dangerous.

“I’m feeling really, really good right now,” said Tillman, whose goal in first-half stoppage time put LAFC ahead 2-0. “I'm very confident in what I'm doing right now and I just enjoy playing. I just have fun being with the boys, being with the team and I enjoy working at the club, working every single training, and that's kind of carrying me through the season.”

That was the good news.

LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo was displeased with what happened after halftime against a dangerous Portland side that has scored in nine of its 10 matches (only first-place Inter Miami has scored in more) and has tallied multiple goals in each of its last five outings.

“Yeah, we were very pleased with the first half,” Cherundolo told the media after the game. “And I think in the second half, what happened – obviously the opponent has to come out and press a little more. That's fine, but we made some really poor decisions on the ball, more specifically our attackers and our 8s [central midfielders], trying to go too fast and losing track of staying connected with and without the ball moving forward as a group controlling the game again, taking this thing out, taking the tempo out. And those – whatever you want to call them, 35 minutes of the second half – it’s not what we want to see. It was a step in the wrong direction and that's what I shared with the guys. I was quite disappointed with it. It's not professional, and totally unnecessary.

“I’m happy with where the guys took the game after the red card for Portland,” Cherundolo added. “I think we deserved to win the game because of that. But this was much more difficult than it needed to be tonight, and that's what I'm disappointed with.”

Tillman concurred: “I think we just have to learn and maybe have to realize it a little better when we have to go fast, when there's a chance to go one on one for our wingers … to score, [versus] when we have to just control the game be a little slower, take a little bit of possession, keep the ball a little bit. That's what we just have to realize in these moments.”

It was a hard lesson that might have turned into a second straight 2-2 draw if not for Bouanga’s unquenchable will to win and his added-time strike past the outstretched arms of former teammate Maxime Crépeau.

“Crépeau really had a great first half,” Bouanga said of the keeper who joined Portland in free agency over the winter. “He was really eager to stop us … It was fun and nice to play against him. He's a great keeper, and I wish him well in taking Portland to a great level.”

LAFC POR Bouanga Crepeau 04272024


Timbers manager Phil Neville took notice of the welcome Crépeau received before and after the match, calling it “a reward for Max for the service he [gave LAFC].” Crépeau, who led LAFC to the MLS Cup in 2022 (and memorably left that match in extra time due to a fractured leg and watched his teammates lift the Cup from a hospital bed) then returned from injury to start the 2023 Cup final as well, said after Saturday night’s match:

“When I stepped in the building I had the feeling of seeing my friends again, because there’s a business side of it – playing for the Timbers and being a Timber – but the human side is that I have a lot of friends here in Los Angeles … It touched my heart to have a reception like this, the people that welcomed me again with open arms.

“I’ve played on both sides of the field here,” Crépeau added. “I know what to expect. Obviously it’s a stadium that is loud, that gets involved in the game, that pushes the rhythm, and it plays to their favor. That’s why, at home, it’s a good team.”


Bouanga’s match-winner Saturday night marked the sixth straight match in which LAFC has scored from a set-piece situation, a streak that began with Tillman’s corner-kick tap-in against Nashville on March 23. Cherundolo credited his players, and assistant coach Marc Dos Santos.

“Marc is the one who runs set pieces for us,” Cherundolo said. “And when our service and the timing of runs – when players are performing and doing what we ask them to do – it works. And it has been working offensively, but we've been also sometimes cheating defensively this year and conceded a few of them we shouldn't have. So, we continue to work on that. I think it's really important to spend time on that in training multiple days of the week and that usually pays off.”


LAFC defender Jesús Murillo watched fellow Colombian Diego Chará set the MLS record with his 377th appearance for Portland—the most by a player for a single club in league history.

“I think it fills one with pride because he shows what he has been doing during all the years that he has been here in the league,” Murillo said of Chará (who was sent off in the second half following a second yellow card). “He is a reference for us. All of us who come to the MLS want to make that same story, to compete and play that many games. I congratulate him. All of us who have come from Colombia want to continue making this league grow and to put Colombia's name high.”


The Timbers website noted that the eight saves Crépeau made against LAFC Saturday night were the most he’s made in an MLS regular-season match since the last time he faced LAFC at BMO Stadium. On Nov. 2, 2021, Crépeau saved 10 shots against the Black & Gold when he was the keeper for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Bouanga now has six goals on the year, tying him for fourth in MLS. Bouanga has played every minute of every match thus far (along with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris) and leads the league in shots, shots on target, and touches in the opponents’ penalty box, according to

LAFC returns to action on Saturday, May 4, with an away match against the San Jose Earthquakes. That game, which kicks off at 4:30 p.m. PT, can be seen for free on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Radio coverage will be available on 710 AM ESPN LA, 980 AM La Mera Mera (ESP).

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