“His mentality is, that’s me saying it, his mentality is top.”
A translator sharing his own words isn’t commonplace. Then again, this was no ordinary translator.
Maxime Crépeau sat beside Dénis Bouanga in the press conference room on the ground floor of BMO Stadium following LAFC’s 2-1 win over FC Dallas. A native French speaker, Crépeau translated Bouanga’s answers to English for the room full of reporters and cameras.
“I have high objectives for myself and for the group,” Bouanga said through his translator. “[I] believe that we have a fantastic group and that we can do it back-to-back. And [I] do believe that deep down. That’s [my] objective collectively and [I] want to help us do it.”
If you’re wondering why an MLS Cup-winning goalkeeper was translating for a teammate, let me take you back in time and half a world away before Bouanga rifled a speculative late effort from an acute angle into the back of the FC Dallas net to secure all three points for LAFC. It’s a goal three continents and thousands of miles in the making.
Bouanga’s journey began in Africa at the Stade de Franceville in Gabon following his national team’s 1-0 victory over Sudan in African Cup of Nations qualifying on Thursday night. Bouanga played all 90 minutes of the match.
From there, Bouanga boarded a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. After a three-hour layover, the LAFC winger was in the air once again, flying nearly 7,000 miles to Los Angeles where his teammates were preparing for a league match with FC Dallas on Saturday night.
Bouanga’s plane touched down at Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday afternoon at 5:27 pm. He arrived at the stadium just before the team meeting at 6:46 pm - less than an hour before kickoff. In total, Bouanga’s travels added up to a combined 13 hours.
“It was planned,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherdunolo after the game. “We knew he was coming back. You never know in what condition a player comes back but certainly, the door for Dénis will always be open.”
Despite Bouanga’s return being planned, the match between LAFC and FC Dallas had its own unique script. Up a goal after just two minutes and 14 seconds and then up a player after the 35th minute, LAFC was laboring through a 1-0 scoreline when Cherundolo called Bouanga’s number in the 65th minute. FC Dallas defender Nkosi Tafari made things even more uncomfortable for LAFC with an equalizer in the 73rd minute.
Carlos Vela rattled the crossbar with a penalty in the 79th minute that would have given his team the lead. LAFC appeared headed to a 1-1 draw or worse, as Dallas continued to push the Black & Gold despite playing with 10 men for nearly an hour.
But in the 84th minute, just a few yards shy of the end line, Bouanga tracked down a Vela corner kick and whipped an effort toward the front post with his right foot. The ball must have only had eyes for the FC Dallas goal as it went first between the legs of defender Sebastien Ibeagha and then goalkeeper Maarten Paes.
“It speaks volumes for his character and his attitude. And I guess, his love for LAFC,” Cherundolo said of Bouanga after the match. “Because he really wanted to help and he really wanted to play and he’ll do everything in his power to make that happen.”
In addition to being the game-winner, the goal was Bouanga’s third in as many starts in 2023 for LAFC in the MLS regular season. It was his sixth goal in all competitions.
But one question remained at the end of Bouanga’s incredible journey on Saturday night.
“It was a cross,” Bouanga said after the match.
“He tried to cross to the first post hard to find one of our guys. But at the end of the day, when he saw the trajectory going through, he said ‘Hell, yeah! We’ll take it!’”
Again Crépeau added a bit of his own emphasis to the translation.