LAFC got the job done with flying colors in their 2023 Concacaf Champions League debut, riding a Dénis Bouanga hat-trick to a dominant 3-0 win over Alajuelense of Costa Rica Thursday night in Leg 1 of the Round of 16.
The defending MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield holders will have a comfortable lead – and home-field advantage – on their side for the return leg at BMO Stadium on March 15 (10:30 pm ET | FS2, TUDN).
Fielding the same starting XI that beat the Portland Timbers 3-2 in their MLS season opener last weekend, the Black & Gold made their presence felt early on at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto. Kwadwo Opoku could have opened the score in the 7th minute but wasted Carlos Vela's brilliant backheel assist (with nutmeg included) by shooting right at goalkeeper Leonel Moreira.
The chances kept coming for the visitors in the first half, most notably a close-range effort from Bouanga that clipped off the base of the left post at the half-hour mark and a shot from Vela that hit the side netting right before halftime.
Alajuelense could only hold on for so long as LAFC took the well-deserved lead two minutes after the break. Vela linked up on the right side with Ryan Hollingshead, whose low cross to the far post was slotted home by Bouanga.
The Hollingshead-Bouanga connection flourished again in the 70th minute, with the right back brilliantly leaving his defender in the dust and sending another ball that the Gabonese international put away to make it 2-0.
Bouanga saved the best for last, blasting a brilliant right-footed shot in the 89th minute that put the game away and left LAFC in about as good a position as they can be heading into Leg 2.
- THE BIG PICTURE: LAFC could've easily won by a wider margin, but they will be more than satisfied with Thursday's massive display in hostile territory that puts the CCL quarterfinals well within reach, especially considering they'll decide the series at home. It was a near-perfect night for the Black & Gold, who were CCL finalists in 2020.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: LAFC were dominant but wasteful in the first half, letting several clear chances go begging in the opening 45 minutes. All that changed when Bouanga broke the ice two minutes into the second half. The floodgates opened from that point on.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: This one's a no-brainer. Bouanga put on a scoring clinic, capping off his magical night with a beauty of a goal that solidified his status as one of LAFC's biggest offensive threats. If anybody doubted his impact during the club's MLS Cup-Supporters' Shield run from last season, they won't have much to say after this performance.
- LAFC: Sunday, March 12 vs. New England Revolution | 10:30 pm ET (MLS Season Pass) | MLS regular season
- LDA: Sunday, March 12 vs. Santos de Guápiles | 7:30 pm ET | Liga FPD de Costa Rica