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Loudoun Calling

A professional performance in one of MLS’ most difficult stadiums provides momentum for a home match that is a key step toward a trophy 

LAFC at STL 05152024 locker room

When LAFC debuted its “smokescreen” secondary kit prior to the 2023 season — its pale green hue inspired by the smoldering goal celebrations in the North End of BMO Stadium – the intent was to carry that same home-field energy into the team’s road matches. It worked well enough in 2023, but through five away games in 2024 the men wearing it had produced only a single point.

Then came Wednesday night’s performance in St. Louis, a 2-0 result that saw “the guys play exactly like they need to play away from home to come away with three points in this league,” as head coach Steve Cherundolo put it in his post-match comments. “Now this team knows it can grind out victories on the road, not just play good football at home and rely on our home results.”

Prior to Wednesday, LAFC’s last regular-season road win had come in October of 2023, a 4-2 victory in Austin. Denis Bouanga had two goals in that game as well. Conversely, St. Louis CITY SC had not suffered a regular-season home loss since that same month. To break those two streaks required something special.

Hugo Lloris provided it in the 16th minute in the Gateway City, waiting for striker João Klauss (5-of-7 on PKs in five years in Europe’s top levels) to commit as he approached his penalty kick, then thumping the ball away at full stretch, the most decorated goalkeeper of his generation reminding us that he’s built a career on coming through at the moment of truth.

“He waited long,” Klauss said with a shrug. “I tried to put it in the side. Nothing much I can say.”

Lloris’ teammate, midfielder Eduard Atuesta, saw the save as a turning point. The VAR-reviewed handball call that preceded it looked as if it would give the home side a 1-0 lead. LAFC had fallen behind 1-nil in four of its five road matches this year and had won none of them. “We knew at the start of the game that the first maybe 20 minutes had a different speed— had some bad situations for us because they put a lot of intensity and a lot of chaos in our area,” Atuesta said. The handling infraction on Omar Campos “was accidental,” Atuesta added, before breaking into a grin. “Of course, thank you Hugo for the save.”

It was a game of cascading events after that, each one leading directly to the next. If Lloris hadn’t denied Klauss (and the rebound shot by Anthony Markanich), St. Louis would likely have used their 1-0 lead to sit deep and protect themselves from the man of whom Apple TV analyst Bradley Wright-Phillips recently said: “With space and time in transition he is the best player in MLS.”

Lloris’ save did happen, though, and there was Bouanga in the 59th minute, making a curling run backward to keep himself onside before accepting a lofted pass from Mati Bogusz with no one between him and STL goalkeeper Roman Bürki. The 2023 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year smirked as he recalled the moment. “I don’t know where he came from,” Bürki said.

“LAFC got exactly what they wanted, a transition moment,” St. Louis manager Bradley Carnell said of the visitors’ sudden 1-0 advantage.

“At half time I spoke with Mati,” Bouanga recalled, “and I told him that I'm going to run, because St. Louis play really high, and I'm going to go inside, to go towards the goal. Mati likes to play like this when I play fast. He looked for me deep. Et voilà.”

“He’s known to do that,” CITY SC defender Tim Parker said of Bouanga. “I mean he sticks around for long times in games and he doesn't really quit either. He's a very, very good player for this league and unfortunately he punished us twice tonight.”

After Bouanga’s second goal—another transition “smash-and-grab” (Carnell’s words) in the fifth minute of stoppage time— the French-born winger waved his arms and shouted “Fini!” Finished.

Securing his team’s first road win, Bouanga said, “gives us a few days to recover, and to receive guests at home to continue this momentum.”

Said Cherundolo: “You can breathe and relax for a couple of days and recover physically and mentally. And then we go again against Loudoun next Tuesday.”

LOUDOUN PROUD

LAFC will have more than a week off until its next MLS match in Atlanta. In the interim, Loudoun United FC of the USL Championship will visit BMO Stadium on Tuesday, May 21, for a Round-of-16 knockout match in the 2024 U.S. Open Cup.

The visitors are a young club. Loudoun United was founded in 2018 in Loudoun County, Virginia, as the reserve team of one of MLS’ original teams, D.C. United.

So far in 2024, Loudoun has two wins, six losses, and two draws in USL Championship play, and sits in 11th place in that league’s 12-team Eastern Conference. Winless in its last five USL matches (0W-4L-1D), the Red & White earned its second Open Cup trip to SoCal this year by upsetting another USL side, Orange County SC, on the road in the Round of 32. Two transition goals from speedy forward Wesley Leggett sealed that result on May 7.

In its most recent game, Loudoun was shut out on the road, 2-0, by North Carolina FC on Tuesday, May 14. Loudoun plays at home this Saturday, May 18, against Monterey Bay.

Former Stanford All American and New York Red Bulls homegrown Zach Ryan leads Loudoun in goals in USL play, with three.

The winner of the LAFC vs. Loudoun United match (tickets available starting at $20) will advance to the U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals on July 9 or 10.

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GOOD FORM

In the three games LAFC has played in all competitions since its loss in San Jose on May 4, the Black & Gold has scored eight goals and conceded one.

Bouanga has been on the field for every minute of every match LAFC has played in 2024– even the U.S. Open Cup win in Las Vegas – the only member of the Black & Gold to have done so. His availability is only matched by his production. In the first 13 MLS games of his Golden Boot season last year, Bouanga had 10 goals and two assists. Over that same span in 2024, he has eight goals and five assists.

“When we practice, we work a lot on the offense,” Bouanga said. “That's how I arrived [at LAFC], in a project where I was told that we were really playing forward, forward, forward. I've been here for almost two years and— it's the truth. And so, I just try to be decisive, either by passing or by shooting like I did [vs. St. Louis] … Involving my teammates more makes me very happy.”

Asked to compare his record-breaking 2023 (in which Bouanga tore through the most congested game schedule in MLS history by tying the MLS record with 38 goals across all competitions) with his first 13 games of 2024, he replied:

“The difference is we play only one game a week, so I don’t score as often. But I like to practice more and more. What is similar [to 2023] is that I haven't changed. I like to play football. I like to attack the spaces and when I have the opportunity to score or to make a good pass, I do it. So nothing has changed for me. What is similar is that I work really hard to score goals.”

MILESTONE

LAFC’s next MLS win will be the 100th regular-season victory in its history. A victory against Atlanta United on May 25 would tie a record set by the Seattle Sounders in 2015, when that club won its 100th regular-season match in its 206th game, becoming the fastest club to reach 100 wins in MLS’ modern era.

LAFC next returns to action at home against Loudoun United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 on Tuesday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m. PT. That match will be streamed on usopencup.com, MLSSoccer.com, and uslsoccer.com.

LAFC resumes its MLS regular-season schedule next weekend on Saturday, May 25, with an away match against Atlanta United at 4:30 p.m. PT. That match will be broadcast on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, 710 AM ESPN LA, 980 AM La Mera Mera (Esp), and SiriusXM FC.

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