Match Recap

Drought Over

LAFC responds to a bumpy early March with grit, style, and an outpouring of goals in home win over Nashville

032324 LAFC Bouanga goal

After a scoreless, winless stretch of three straight games, the floodgates opened for LAFC Saturday night at BMO Stadium in a resounding 5-0 win over Nashville SC that included a little bit of everything. LAFC moved to 2W-2L-1D on the season, and vaulted from tenth place in the West into fifth, courtesy of a set-piece goal, a penalty-kick goal, a soaring header, a teenager’s first MLS assist, and another assist from a player making his first start of the year.

A clean sheet for LAFC’s goalkeeper (and a straight red card for the opponent’s) capped off a night to remember, following three games the Black & Gold seemed eager to forget.

BOUANGA IS BACK

By scoring LAFC’s second and third goals of the night, forward Denis Bouanga ended the second-longest scoring drought of his MLS career at four games. The reigning MLS Golden Boot winner, who is one of three LAFC players to have played every minute so far in 2024 (along with Hugo Lloris and Aaron Long), had not seen much return on his physical investment until Saturday.

Bouanga’s penalty-kick goal in the 18th minute was his first goal of the season, and it made him a perfect 7-for-7 on penalties taken, across all competitions, since he arrived at LAFC in 2022.

“We really wanted to start really strong and keep going and going so we could get that first goal in, and then we can, you know, be a bit more tranquil,” Bouanga said. “We just kept playing almost without thinking after that first goal. So it felt really good.”

His second goal, just after halftime, came courtesy of a diagonal pass on the ground from his former Ligue 1 teammate Sergi Palencia, which midfielder Eduard Atuesta leapt over, allowing Bouanga a clearer shot. Bouanga would later return the favor with a chipped pass into the six-yard box that Atuesta finished with his head for LAFC’s fifth and final goal.

“I thought [Bouanga’s] overall effort, his decision making on the ball, when to pass, when to dribble and shoot himself, was phenomenal,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “And his effort was there. I think we saw a very aggressive player, a player that the league got to know, fear, and respect [last season].”

THE OTHER WING

Cristian Olivera’s 75th-minute goal was the Uruguayan international’s first goal for LAFC since October 7, 2023, and his third for the club in all competitions since he signed with the Black & Gold in August of last year.

After the game Olivera pointed to the extra effort put forth by players who stayed after training this past week to address their attacking tactics. “I believe that the team, despite the defeats, always continued working to improve. And I think that stood out in this game. The truth is that our efforts came out. … We hadn't linked much to create goals, but I think the work of the entire week, everything that has been done, was reflected in this match.

“When you have sacrifice and humility, is shows in everything,” Olivera added, “No matter how much you play –  you play well, you play badly – the attitude that this team has is not negotiable.”

Olivera’s goal was assisted by 18-year-old winger David Martínez, marking the first goal contribution of the young Venezuelan’s LAFC career.

“He's really an excellent player and he's very important,” Bouanga said of Martínez. “We speak a lot together. I don't speak that much Spanish, but because French and Spanish are two languages that are pretty close, we talk a lot.”

SERGI SURGES

Palencia, who started at outside back in place of Omar Campos (who is playing for Mexico’s U-23 national team through Monday) made an impact throughout his 65-minute shift. His blistering volley from distance would have been an MLS Goal of the Matchday candidate had it not been saved by Nashville keeper Joe Willis. More important, it led to a foul in the box on Timmy Tillman that set up Bouanga’s PK goal.

Palencia harassed Nashville’s dangerous attackers, Sam Surridge and Hany Mukhtar, helping keep the visitors scoreless, and he assisted on the Bouanga goal that put the game out of reach, at 3-0.

“Excellent performance from him tonight,” Cherundolo said of the 27-year-old Palencia, who just became a father for the first time. “He brought an energy, an aggressiveness, and a calmness … his performance was one of the best he's had … [It’s] a luxury for any coach to have a player like that, who has come off the bench more often than he has started. But I'm certain you'll see more of Sergi.”

“I could speak about Sergi all day long,” said Ryan Hollingshead, who moved to left back from his usual right back spot to make room for Palencia. “This guy is just world class in who he is as a person, who he is in the locker room … I'm so glad he got this moment to play. He’s so big for us.”

ODDS AND ENDS

LAFC expected goals metric (xG) of 4.8 against Nashville was its best of the season through five games, according to FBREF. LAFC’s expected goals allowed mark of 0.5 marked its best defensive effort of 2024.

Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris recorded the second clean sheet in his five starts for LAFC since his offseason arrival from the English Premier League, and his second straight clean sheet at home. In the 270 minutes he’s played at BMO Stadium, Lloris has conceded only a penalty-kick goal to Seattle.

Forward Tomás Ángel participated in an extended on-field workout prior to the game as he progresses toward returning to action for the first time since March 2.

This was Nashville’s first loss in MLS play this season, and it carried the largest goal differential of any loss in the perennially powerful club’s four years in MLS.

Atuesta’s goal was his first for LAFC since he converted a penalty in a 4-0 win over Sporting Kansas City in September 2021. His current teammate Ilie Sánchez started at centerback for SKC in that game.

Omar Campos started at left back for Mexico’s U-23 team in their friendly against Argentina on Friday, which ended in a 4-2 result for Argentina.

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