Dénis Bouanga: Europe return "a possibility" after record-tying LAFC season

Bouanga - MLS Cup - goal celebration

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s been no secret that big questions swirl around LAFC this winter.

With Saturday’s 2-1 MLS Cup final loss against the Columbus Crew, club icon Carlos Vela is now out of contract, as are key starters Maxime Crépeau, Kellyn Acosta and Diego Palacios, while Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini must decide whether he will retire, or accept LAFC’s offer to return for another season and play through his 40th birthday.

These situations have been known and discussed for many weeks. Yet the Black & Gold’s third painful cup final loss of the season was punctuated by ominous words from star winger Dénis Bouanga that hint at potentially yet another simmering matter for co-president and general manager John Thorrington and head coach Steve Cherundolo to tackle.

“I am really happy to have played for a year and a half here, to get to know MLS, to get to know Concacaf,” a downcast Bouanga told reporters in French, deep in the bowels of Field after scoring his 38th goal across all competitions in 2023, tying Vela’s MLS record for goals in a calendar year.

“And I'm not saying anything ahead of time, but I'm really happy to have played here. I think LAFC is a great institution and after a year and a half, it's been really good.”

The manner of his phrasing begged for a follow-up. Might the reigning MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi winner and Concacaf Champions League top scorer really return to Europe just 18 months after arriving at LAFC on a Designated Player contract reported by the Los Angeles Times to run through 2025 for a $5 million transfer fee from French side AS Saint-Etienne?

“It’s a possibility, yeah,” said the Gabon international. “I leave that to the other people, even if I have a few years left on my contract here. I just have to say that I'm really happy at LAFC, very happy here. But yeah, it's a possibility I have to return to Europe. I let the club and my agents figure all of that stuff out. But as I said, I'm very honored to have worn this jersey and to have played for this institution here.”

Told of Bouanga’s words, Thorrington sounded quite uninclined to part with his team’s most productive attacker for anything other than a sky-high fee.

“He's under contract. He's the top goalscorer in the league, a huge part of how we play,” said the executive. “So our plan is absolutely he's under contract for another few years and that he’ll be back. We never know what may happen, but it's going to be a hugely, hugely expensive transfer fee if he's not here next year.”

Bouanga admitted to being “very upset” in the wake of the loss – “It's three finals that we lost this year, I left everything out there because it was really important for me to win this game,” he said. Whether his words simply reflected those painful frustrations or something deeper remains to be seen.

Notably, the league’s most dominant attacker all season is not among its elite wage-earners according to MLS Players Association documents, which rank Bouanga 23rd on the list of top guaranteed compensation. That said, he’s repeatedly spoken positively of his and his family’s life in California and the way the club has treated him.

“Los Angeles really knows who they bring in and what players they get. They really know what they're doing,” he said on Saturday night.

“It's really hard to get to the final and always be losing in the finals. But it's very important for the team to continue to be consistent in what the team is doing, because LA really is a very important team. It's very important to always continue being in the final, and hopefully we'll be winning more finals.”