When Dénis Bouanga arrived at LAFC during the summer transfer window in 2022, he was the least heralded of the club’s three major signings. International football legends Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini took top billing, and deservedly so, based on all the individual and team trophies they had collected over more than three combined decades of top-tier European football.
Bouanga, on the other hand, was departing St. Etienne, a club that had just been relegated from France’s top division, Ligue 1, amid a storm of controversy, with disgruntled locals invading the pitch and damaging St. Etienne’s 90-year-old stadium. Bouanga wasn’t leaving stability behind him, he was in search of it.
Bouanga’s statistics at the tradition-rich club were impressive. LAFC co-president and GM John Thorrington, saw in the 27-year-old winger not just limitless potential, but skill sets and attributes that were custom-made for the Black & Gold’s fast and forward style of play.
Bouanga, has risen to another level entirely, earning MLS All-Star status, winning two Golden Boots (Concacaf Champions Cup and MLS), becoming a finalist for MLS’ Landon Donovan MVP award, receiving MLS Player of the Month honors for October, and now – to no one’s surprise – being selected to MLS’ annual Best XI squad for 2023.
Bouanga’s Best XI recognition marks the seventh time in just six seasons that an LAFC player has made the league’s list of top players at each position. Bouanga joins three-time Best XI selection Carlos Vela (2018, ‘19, ‘22), along with Diego Rossi (2020), Walker Zimmerman (2019), and Eduard Atuesta (2019) in LAFC’s history books.
His statistics speak for themselves: first in the league in goals scored (20), and second in total goal contributions (26). Then again, the numbers don’t do him justice. “His impact has been not just scoring,” Chiellini said recently, “but running hard for 90 minutes, for the whole season.” As one of just seven forwards in MLS to play more than 2,500 regular-season minutes in 2023, Bouanga’s most valuable asset might be his availability.
He’s always playing, always pressing, always dangerous. In that sense, he has become Major League Soccer’s version of Major League Baseball’s all-time leading base stealer and run scorer, Rickey Henderson. Even when he isn’t shooting on goal, Bouanga lives in his opponent’s minds, lurking, bothering, pestering, always threatening to stomp the gas pedal and change the scoreboard. Always altering the game to LAFC’s advantage.
“This is the player we scouted in Europe,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said when Bouanga embarked on a late-season scoring run, notching 10 goals over six games—a streak that only eight others in MLS history have achieved—and pushing his team into the playoffs. “Denis has made an impact in MLS … [and] we’re hoping for more in the most important part of the season.”
For Bouanga’s part, he appears to have found a home in Los Angeles, a city that blends the metropolitan feel of Paris with the gentle ocean breezes of Gabon, the country Bouanga plays for internationally. A place where, most important of all, the football is fast-paced—and never boring. His unique combination of grit and glamour has endeared him to the fans who fill BMO Stadium to watch him shine.
Or as Bouanga described it to a French reporter this season: “I have found a club and a stadium that are magical.”