LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo knew the questions would come when the club transferred Cristian Arango to Liga MX’s Pachuca ahead of the 2023 MLS season. How would the defending Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup champions replace the Colombian’s scoring output of 35 goals in 58 games across all competitions?
Cherundolo wasn't concerned.
In his postgame comments following a 4-0 thrashing of the New England Revolution, he explained the club recruits players to perfectly fit his system, which creates an abundance of scoring chances. Also, he knew he had Dénis Bouanga.
The 28-year-old forward, who arrived from France's Saint-Etienne on a Designated Player deal last season, is starting to show what he's capable of early this season. Bouanga followed the first hat trick of his career in a 3-0 win over host Alajuelense in the club’s Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 opener in Costa Rica on Thursday with a brace against the Revs Sunday at BMO Stadium to conclude Matchday 3.
“We're delighted with Dénis. We knew he had the potential last year to score a lot of goals in this league and to be one of the best players in the league.” Cherundolo said. “Last year it didn't click prolifically but he was still a very important piece of our championship team. And this year, he is scoring and he will continue to score. He's good.”
Bouanga opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 14th minute and added his second goal in the 67th minute, latching onto a ball played over the top by Jose Cifuentes and beating the opposing No. 99 in Revs goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic.
WATCH: Red-hot Dénis Bouanga torches Revs
“Playing next to [Carlos] Vela and the other players, everyone makes me feel really welcome so I feel confident,” Bouanga said through a translator. “When I’m on the field I give 100 percent of myself and the team is getting better and better and I'm getting better also.”
Having had a full preseason with the Black & Gold has worked wonders for the Gabon international, who has fully adapted to the surroundings and looks comfortable with his teammates.
"By doing the preseason, it's easier to find the teammates and the teammates find me better," he added.
A Timothy Tillman goal in the 83rd minute secured the three points, but a stoppage-time strike by Stipe Biuk, his first in MLS since his arrival from Croatian top-flight side Hajduk Split, was especially cathartic for Cherundolo.
“It's very important also tonight for Stipe Biuk to get a goal,” he said. “He’s been real close the past couple of weeks. And that will do wonders for his confidence.”
Through two games of the regular season and one CCL contest, LAFC have emphatically answered the goal-scoring question with 10 goals from three wins.
The second leg of their Round of 16 tie against Alajuelense is next at BMO Stadium on Wednesday (10:30 pm ET), followed by a Matchday 4 showdown with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday (4 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FOX).
HIGHLIGHTS: Los Angeles Football Club vs. New England Revolution | March 12, 2023