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The pressure is on: LAFC’s latest acquisition solidifies MLS Cup favorite status

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Denis Buanga from
Denis Bouanga of Saint-Étienne (centre) tackles the ball during a match against Wolfsburg in October 2019. Will LAFC win the MLS Cup with Bouanga this season? (Thibaut Camus/Associated Press)

LAFCwhich already had more weapons than the US Army added another Friday when it announced it had signed an advanced Denis Buangawho spent five seasons in the French first division.

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It was like giving Hercules more muscle or Einstein more brains. And that has arguably made the best MLS team this season one of the best teams in MLS history.

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Well, one of the best teams without a title anyway.

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Filling that void in the title is now becoming a challenge for the LAFC, which went out for the weekend leading the league in wins and points and second in goals. He led MLS in all three categories in 2019 when he broke or equaled three league records en route to the Fan Shield (the league’s best record).

However, the team only has one playoff win to showcase this prowess.

The LAFC reportedly paid Saint-Étienne a $5 million transfer fee for Bouangu and then signed him until 2025, just before the secondary transfer window closed. He became the first LAFC designee to sign in three years and he will do anything less than the MLS Cup this fall because General John Torrington did a wonderful job of creating a list that is deep at every position.

“Thanks to LAFC and organization. He put together an amazing line-up, very deep,” said Coach Steve Cherundolowho now has no excuse. “This is the one we’ve come to know and we know how to use it.”

Over the past two months, Torrington has signed Italian legend Giorgio Chielliniwho led his country to the last European Championship, and Welsh Captain Gareth Bale, a five-time Champions League winner, for about what Galaxy gives to often-injured striker Douglas Costa. LAFC also signed Candle Carlosleague leader in single-season scoring, to an 18-month contract extension.

Now 27-year-old Bouanga, a Gabon international in the prime of his career, is being added to the front line, which already includes Vela; MVP candidate Christian Arango, team’s top scorer; and Uruguayan Brian Rodriguez. The offense is so complex that Bale has yet to crack the starting lineup.

Denis Bouanga of Saint-Étienne controls the ball during a match in September 2020.
Denis Bouanga of Saint-Étienne controls the ball during a match in September 2020. (Daniel Cole/Associated Press)

“You could argue they just had the best transfer window they’ve ever had,” Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwei said. “I really think that John is one of the best grandmasters in the league.”

But it’s Lagerway and the Sounders who remain the league’s gold standard, having won two MLS Cups and the CONCACAF Champions League in the past seven seasons, knocking LAFC out of the playoffs twice.

“Of course, the goal for all of us is the MLS Cup and it makes sense that LAFC would go to great lengths to try and win it,” Lagerwei said. “Yeah, they had a bunch of good teams. But they haven’t won it yet.”

That’s what the reconstruction was this season. And Torrington pulled it off masterfully, amassing more than $1.6 million in appropriations in a series of deals that began last summer, then using that money to acquire goaltender Maxime Crepo, defenseman Francisco Escobar and national team midfielder Kellin Acosta.

This summer, he added Chiellini and Bale, once the most expensive player in football history, to TAM deals worth $1.5 million each — contract sleight of hand so extraordinary that an opponent suggested Torrington was cheating.

“One of the hardest things about this league is having a big roster,” said Will Koontz, LAFC vice president of football operations. “Due to the structure of the rules, spending is limited. So our conclusion over four years was that if we can keep our philosophy of having a young core of interesting players who can play this style, but perhaps supplement it with a few more experienced players “veterans who have played in the league, it really helps.”

However, none of this means anything if LAFC loses again in the postseason.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” said Koontz, who began his career with the New York Yankees at a time when anything less than a World Series title was unacceptable. “But I think that’s what we accept with these standards. This level of public attention directed at us inspires us, and this is what we really care about.”

“Los Angeles is like New York,” he continued. “It’s ‘what have you done for me lately city.’ What we have done now is that we have simply set the trampoline a little higher. So if we plop down on our stomachs, it will be louder and more people will see it.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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