Match Recap

TAKEAWAYS | Getting The Result In Utah 5/13/23

Dénis Bouanga popped up to his feet. With a smile on his face, he retrieved the ball and headed to the penalty spot.

LAFC was already back on track. Coming off last week’s first loss of the 2023 MLS season, the Black & Gold were up 2-0 at Real Salt Lake with less than five minutes to play. A third goal would be purely academic.

Bouanga had done his part, sending a lightning bolt from his left foot into the top corner to give LAFC that two-goal lead in the 35th minute. It was his MLS leading 9th goal of the season.

But as the referee instructed the players to line up at the edge of the box, Bouanga was nowhere to be seen on our TV screens. In his place stood Mateusz Bogusz, a second-half substitute that had entered the match less than 10 minutes prior.

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Bogusz took a deep breath and dispatched his penalty into the side net. It was the first goal of the 21-year-old’s MLS career.

Bouanga still ended the night atop the MLS scoring chart despite passing up the chance to add to his tally. He very well may end the season there too. But even if he falls one goal short, I bet the player that once traveled over 13 hours to rejoin his team before scoring the game-winning goal would hand off the ball if he had to do it all over again.

Because that’s the kind of thing a good teammate does. And although Bouanga might be making a name for himself around the league as a lethal finisher and MVP frontrunner, he’s shown time and time again that the badge on the front of the shirt comes before the name on the back.

Here are the rest of the Takeaways from LAFC’s 3-0 win at RSL:


Brutally Efficient

Mahala Opoku opened the scoring in the 8th minute of this match. Blink and you’ll miss it.

One of the most important principles Steve Cherundolo has instilled in this team since his arrival is the willingness to take what the opponent gives you. The LAFC head coach isn’t overly focused on pretty football just for the sake of it. He wants results.

Opoku’s goal is about as efficient as you can get. It’s a long ball over the top and a finish. Straight up Route One football. But even in the simplest play, we can find some beauty.

The ball from Ilie Sánchez is inch-perfect. The pace, the trajectory, and the weight are all perfect. Once Sánchez receives the pass without a single RSL player within 10 yards of him, he’s looking for the most dangerous option. And with that kind of time and space, he can survey the entire field.

For his part, Mahala has the touch and the finish. Again, both are perfect. But none of it happens without his recognition of the moment.

RSL’s backline is extremely high, nearly at the halfway line. Without pressure on the ball, that’s asking for trouble. Once Sánchez lifts his head, Mahala knows his cue. The LAFC winger is on the move and he’s headed for the most dangerous spot on the field: the space behind RSL’s high line.

It’s the synchronicity that’s stunning. From Ilie’s vision to Mahala’s run, it all happened like clockwork. And once again, LAFC shows they can hurt you in so many ways.


“He Glides”

We’re running out of things to say about Denís Bouanga and there’s still so much season left to play!

But I loved what the Apple TV broadcast team of Max Bretos and Brian Dunseth kept going back to on the night: “He glides.”

Because for all his goals and pace and power and footwork and on and on… one thing that gets overlooked is some of the less glamorous work Bouanga does closer to LAFC’s goal.

Don’t let the 3-0 scoreline deceive you, Pablo Mastroeni’s team made LAFC suffer for periods of this match. There were spells where LAFC couldn’t get out of its own half.

That’s where Bouanga’s ability to get on the ball under pressure, sometimes with a player breathing down his neck and another in his face, and “glide” upfield is vital. There were two or three times in the first half that he received a pass 10 to 15 yards inside his own half, beat an opponent or two, and played a simple pass to a teammate in space.

It’s not easy work. Helping his team gain those 10 to 20 yards of field position uses up a ton of energy, which is why a lot of goalscorers bypass that kind of work altogether. Those little moments as an escape valve might go unnoticed but they’re vital to the team over the course of 90 minutes.


Facing Adversity

On paper, you might look at this LAFC team and think everything has been easy. They have the league’s leading scorer in Dénis Bouanga. Carlos Vela is joint-top of the assist charts. John McCarthy has five shutouts in nine matches. The team has just one loss in the regular season and is in the Concacaf Champions League final. Obviously, that’s all fantastic but it doesn’t tell the entire story of LAFC’s 2023 thus far.

During the match, we learned LAFC’s arrival in Utah was delayed until the day of the match due to travel troubles. The team has seen center backs Jesus David Murillo and Giorgio Chiellini sidelined with injuries in recent weeks. Kellyn Acosta left the match in the 19th minute after a collision with RSL’s Braian Ojeda.

LAFC has faced adversity.

After the match, Steve Cherdunolo had this to say about his team, “we’re obviously happy with the scoreline and the three points. That was the objective. And I think at times the performance was very good but too many moments in between where it wasn’t good.”

Maybe the travel delay explained some of the lapses Cherdunolo pointed out. But LAFC got the result regardless. And while the team has always acknowledged the need for a little luck in the injury department, it’s found ways to get the best out of its squad’s depth when needed.

LAFC will need to maintain that kind of mentality and work ethic with a crucial two weeks ahead.


Highlights | LAFC 3-0 Real Salt Lake 5/13/23

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