The Secondary Transfer Window finished pretty much as it started for LAFC: Bookended by big additions.
LAFC had deals announced and ready to be registered as soon as the window opened, for both Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini and superstar forward Gareth Bale. Coming into deadline day, they were working on adding Gabon international winger Denis Bouanga as their third Designated Player. Carlos Vela and Brian Rodriguez are the Black & Gold's other DPs.
Timing was tight. In a move that went through “at the absolute last minute of the window” on Aug. 4, LAFC got their man from Saint-Etienne, though it wasn’t without consternation.
“Yes, I was worried it wouldn’t get done,” LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com. “The challenge we were facing is that when our windows don’t align, if you’re in the shoes of the selling club, it might be in their best interest to wait for the end of the European window. … Until I see the signature, I’m always worried. Especially in a case where we knew he was a very sought-after commodity.”
Thorrington and the club were anxiously sweating out a third DP signing on deadline day, as if sitting atop the Supporters’ Shield race wasn’t already enough. As if signing Chiellini wasn’t enough. As if signing Bale wasn’t enough.
“We did not feel like now was a good time to get complacent,” Thorrington quipped.
Bouanga, 27, is a Gabon international and proven attacker in Ligue 1, with at least 11 goal contributions in each of his last four seasons in the French top flight. He had lit up the second tier before settling in the top division, too. Though he was relegated with Saint-Etienne, Bouanga was an incandescent figure with nine goals and six assists in 2021-22.
Still, after the relegation, Bouanga was certain to leave the club. LAFC battled numerous teams in France and across Europe to sign him.
“Admittedly, when the conversations started, I don’t think this was his planned next step,” Thorrington said. “But we were able to communicate what we had to offer – we try to genuinely present what we see is a unique opportunity to come to LAFC, to come to MLS. From the outset of that conversation, he was very excited. It wasn’t the course he had charted but he pivoted quickly.”
Bouanga was scouted by LAFC and identified as a top target for his pace, pressing and goal output. The club believe those traits are something the group needed a boost in with that final DP spot.
“We identified what qualities we felt we needed to complement our team and Denis was the best option that fit that profile,” Thorrington said. “He’ll give us deep running, pace. He’s got an eye for goal, he can press and we think his abilities mix very well with the group we already have.”
Bouanga's versatility was an attractive quality as well. He has spent a lot of time on the left wing, but is just as comfortable through the center or on the right. With so many players to choose from in attack, it gives head coach Steve Cherundolo further permutations to work through.
Managing an attack with Bale, Vela, Cristian Arango, Rodriguez and Mahala Opoku won’t be easy. All six players would expect to play key roles, but in LAFC’s 4-3-3 formation, there are only three starting spots to go around.
“It’s not an easy thing to manage, but it’s the type of issue that coaches want to manage,” Thorrington said. “I’ve seen Steve manage this from day one. I think he’s been absolutely incredible in how he’s managed the group.”
LAFC head into the stretch run of the 2022 season with a six-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race (with a game in hand) and are looking to give themselves the best chance in the chaos that is the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
Trophies are all they’re focused on.
“I want to be clear: Nobody celebrates in August,” Thorrington said. “Yes, our intent is to put ourselves in as good of a position moving forward – and I credit the group for what has been done to date – but we have not achieved any of our goals yet. Not one.”
A quick section to go inside MLS salary cap/roster rules. Well, quick because my wonderful editors would spike the 2,000 words I would write on this. Fellow sickos unite.
Anyway. With Bouanga signed to the club’s third and final DP spot, there is a potential problem on the horizon.
Bale’s contract option would make him a DP if it’s picked up, giving them one too many. So, one would have to leave if Bale is to stay. With Bouanga signing a week ago and Vela signing a contract extension two months ago, one would deduce that the likeliest scenario is Rodriguez leaving if Bale were to stay.
Rodriguez is a Young DP; it’s why the club could use up to three U22 Initiative slots (Jose Cifuentes and Diego Palacios now after Francisco Ginella departed on loan this summer). If the group of DPs are Vela, Bouanga and Bale, LAFC could use just one U22 Initiative slot. LAFC are one of the clubs that filled all three U22 Initiative slots immediately, something that fits into their ethos of adding young talent.
“We’re aware of what’s on the horizon," Thorrington said. "We’re planning for the various possibilities and permutations of what may come."