In the last few years, while competing for Nimes and then Saint-Étienne in Ligue 1, Denis Bouanga got a front-row seat to Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance in France’s top flight.
It’s through that lens the Gabon international reflects on his summertime move to LAFC, having joined the Supporters’ Shield leaders as a deadline-day signing in early August.
“It's a very good team that I've been following for a very long time,” Bouanga said of LAFC at his first press conference stateside. “We call it the PSG of MLS because they have great players and score a lot of goals.”
Of course, LAFC aren’t trotting out a front three with global superstars like Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Lionel Messi. But their collective attacking talent – at least on paper – may be MLS’s closest thing resembling PSG’s star-laden group.
This summer alone in the final third, the Black & Gold inked Bouanga as a Designated Player and re-signed club captain Carlos Vela to a new DP deal. After last competing in LaLiga for Real Madrid and Real Betis, respectively, Wales star Gareth Bale and former Barcelona prodigy Cristian Tello arrived as free agents. They all supplement the remarkably productive Cristian Arango and Kwadwo Opoku, giving head coach Steve Cherundolo a wealth of options to pick from up top.
The 27-year-old, still getting to know his teammates, admired the pieces assembled at the 2018 expansion side.
“A lot of young players are as good as all the stars,” said Bouanga. “It's a mix that makes LA first today.”
Bouanga, Gabon’s most productive forward alongside Chelsea star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, debuted Wednesday night in LAFC’s 2-1 loss at Houston Dynamo FC. He played 18 minutes as a second-half substitute, a delayed run-out while awaiting his visa paperwork to get processed.
“It was not easy, what we asked of him the other night to travel, land and play,” Cherundolo said. “But sometimes it's the easiest way to integrate players, just get them on the field. That was an attempt the other night and I think it was just fine. So for those purposes that was successful and we will add moving forward.”
LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington sees Bouanga as a key piece as they push for the Shield, with six regular-season games remaining before the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs get underway in mid-October. A second Shield in four years would bring LAFC a 2023 Concacaf Champions League spot, too.
“What Denis adds to our group that is maybe a little bit different, is he adds pace and power and verticality from wide positions as well as the versatility to play centrally,” Thorrington said. “This is a guy who has had a number of years playing at the highest level in France. He's been exposed to very high-level, pressure-filled games that we are now in and we will be in in the future.”
Bouanga, much like Bale and center back Giorgio Chiellini voiced upon their summertime arrivals, emphasized off-field happiness as part of why he joined the project. With his mind at ease, calling playing in Los Angeles “a dream,” Bouanga’s impact will surely grow.
“I see myself playing here as long as possible,” Bouanga said. “And I know there's a good feeling in Los Angeles. Life is good for me and my family. We all chose this.”