221020 Bouanga triumph

part of an ongoing series that introduces LAFC players in their own words

The first and most important thing to know about me is that I play for my family. Throughout my life, whether it’s my parents, my brothers, or my wife—and now our two children—my family has been with me at every step of my career. They are my motivation and my inspiration.

My football journey began when I started watching my older brother Cedric play. We are from Le Mans, a pretty town in northwest France that is known for the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race. When I was very young, my brother offered me, for my birthday, a ticket to go see le MUC (Le Mans FC, our hometown club) play against Marseille at Stade Léon Bollée. That day I fell in love with soccer. (Marseille, by the way, became my favorite club, because of the supporters’ ambience.)

Cedric would go on to become a pro basketball player while my younger brother, Didier, became a footballer like me. Didier, who is one year younger than I am, is the person I played with the most growing up. It was so much fun, but we also made each other better.

Ronaldo Nazario, the famous Brazilian number 9, was my favorite player growing up. He is the reason I played striker as a kid. Soon, though, I was shifted to the side because I was really small and number 9s tend to be larger and stronger. Since then, I have always played as a winger.

Soccer was not my only athletic pursuit growing up. I was really into break dancing. I hadn’t had the opportunity to break dance competitively but I was practicing a lot. I preferred soccer anyway, so I chose soccer. Breaking still lives on within my football, though. That’s where I got my front-flip goal celebration— from my time as a dancer.

I realized I wanted to become a professional footballer when I was at the 14U level. In France, that’s the point where the big clubs start playing against one another. There was no single moment when I realized I wanted to make football my career. I had a lot to overcome when I was a kid. For example I was not drafted to go to “sport-etudes” (a French school where kids also play sport during their high school years), because I engaged in a playful water fight after training one day that was seen as misbehavior.

I went to Le Mans FC four or five years later. I remember pushing through difficult moments as a youth player in Le Mans. My team at that time did not show a great deal of belief in me as a player, but that difficult period pushed me. After that, I told myself that nothing worse could happen to me. I moved down and played at a lower level, where I blossomed on the same team as my little brother.

Shortly afterward, the coach of RC Lens, who was the former coach at the CFA Lorient, went to watch my brother Didier and he spotted me as well. He took both of us. Four or five months later when I was supposed to play in CFA, I signed my first professional contract at 19 years old, everything I was dreaming of when I was little.

My mother Anne-Marie and my father Amédé are very generous people. Their kind eyes, whether on my brothers and sisters or on me, have always helped us to stand up straight, to grow up as we should, firmly rooted in the soil but with our heads held high and full of dreams. It’s because of them that I feel nothing is impossible. The fact that they brought me up with their values is what makes the man I am today, and I can never thank them enough. I love them so much. It was hard to leave home and start my professional career, but we remained very close despite the distance.

My first years as a professional – when I played with French clubs Lorient, Tours, and Nimes, Strasbourg and Saint Etienne – those years were wonderful. There were a lot of highs and not so many lows. But I learned a lot, because every lost game is a learning experience. The dreams I had imagined as a kid, sitting in that stadium with Cedric, watching professionals play – I achieved those dreams just a few years later.

I will never forget that first week in November 2014 with Lorient. I signed my first professional contract, I played Paris St. Germain on Wednesday, and on Saturday played against Evian in the Coupe de la Ligue competition. It was my birthday, as well. Unforgettable.

Around this time I also fell in love with fashion. I knew a few brands, but looking good wasn't my top priority. When you start to have a bit of money, however, you can treat yourself. My rule is that after a good game, I treat myself by buying clothes. When creating an outfit, I usually start with the shoes, but it depends on the weather. Sometimes I start with the top and finish with the shoes. Dressing well makes me feel good. I keep my eye on everything and when I like something, I buy it.

My time playing in Europe ended on a troubling note. The club I was with, St. Etienne, was relegated, which caused problems inside and outside the club. But I only want to remember positive things. My three seasons there were beautiful. I played in a mythical stadium with wonderful fans every game.

When LAFC first contacted me – I have to be honest – I had never heard of the club. After I signed in summer 2022, I arrived in Los Angeles expecting the games to have not many spectators. I thought the stadium would be empty because basketball is more popular in the U.S. than soccer. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The experience of playing in BMO Stadium is incredible. Feeling the energy of our supporters made me want to always play at home.

Within four months of my arrival we [LAFC] were playing in the MLS Cup final! What a moment. I remember so vividly the cross from Chiqui [Diego Palacios] heading toward Gareth [Bale], who had come to LAFC at the same time I arrived here. I was standing right behind Gareth in that moment, and if he had not headed the ball it would have landed right at my feet. I wouldn’t change anything, of course, because the scenario was perfect. It’s an image I don’t want to remove from my memory. If the ball had arrived on my foot, I hope that it would have had the same impact as Gareth’s goal.

The penalty shootout that decided the championship was crazy. After Max’s injury [then-goalkeeper Max Crépeau broke his leg in extra time and left the game], I thought nothing else bad could happen to us. We were playing 10-v-11, we had suffered a big injury … but the stadium was on fire. For me the scenario was perfect. I converted my penalty, Ilie [Sánchez] converted the last one. We became champions in an ebullient stadium.

Denis Bouanga MLS Cup

My favorite moment of last season [2023] was the game against the Galaxy. The stadium was full and we were on a great dynamic. That game [a 4-2 win] allowed us to collect some more points and go to the final for the second straight year. Some people talk about the lows of last season, but I didn’t experience any lows. We were playing every four days, so we didn’t have time to think. We needed to move forward. It was always easy to start a new game.

There were tough moments, yes. In those times, throughout my career, I have always tried to sit back and talk with trusted friends who watched the game and saw what went well and what went wrong. They are direct with me, sharing the good and bad. I prefer people to be straightforward with me rather than beat around the bush. I still know when I've been performant or not.

I have been fortunate to stay surrounded by good people here in Los Angeles, starting, of course, with my wife and children. I have found L.A. to be a good place to raise kids. They are little – three and six years old. They can learn English faster in the French American school near our home as opposed to a normal American school setting. So it’s great for them. West Hollywood, where we live, is a dream place. It’s safe, beautiful, a great area for our kids. We’re very happy there.

Again, my family, my friends, and my children are my dearest gift. I do everything for them. They are all that matters.

With my family behind me, I am indestructible.

Bouanga sig
2024 Season Membership

2024 Season Membership

Secure your spot in our priority line for the 2024 season.

Place a deposit today!

Receive The Latest LAFC Developments

Receive The Latest LAFC Developments

Including special invitations and offers, Academy updates, and opportunities to get involved in the community.