Denis Bouanga is slick.
His hair is slick, his footwork is slick, and his touch is slicker than almost any in Major League Soccer. Since joining LAFC over the summer, only one thing has evaded him: a goal.
It was his 95th minute winner that made the difference, though, winning his team a trophy.
Gio Savarese gambled with his starting lineup against LAFC Sunday afternoon.
The Timbers gaffer selected Cristhian Paredes, Larrys Mabiala, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, and Juan Mosquera for the crucial meeting with MLS’ table-toppers over more established names like Sebastian Blanco and Yimmi Chara. Eryk Williamson and Zac McGraw had been regulars for the Timbers, as well.
Mosquera made his first MLS start after an impressive substitute debut in Columbus last game.
Portland created a few good chances to start the game, but LAFC battled into control of the first half. The best chance belonged to the visitors — Bouanga darted past Mabiala and Dario Zuparic, but couldn’t chip Aljaz Ivacic.
The game would always be defined by its second half, though.
Vela received a cutting pass from Kellyn Acosta. He took a touch, faked a shot, and perfectly placed one past the outstretched arm of Ivacic, who could only manage one hand on it. Bravo and Paredes failed to really pressure Vela, but that’s a moment he’s produced over and over during his time in MLS.
Portland took a while to respond. Savarese sent on reinforcements in the 74th minute (Eryk Williamson and Yimmi Chara), and they immediately got involved. Seven minutes later, the Timbers had their equalizer.
Claudio Bravo whipped in a cross for Dairon Asprilla, who smashed a header past Crepeau to make it 1-1. The energy was back. A draw or better for Portland felt inevitable.
But the Timbers never showed much bite after the equalizer. LAFC controlled the match, and were nearly rewarded with a penalty as stoppage time began. Thankfully, Ismail Elfath saw no wrongdoing on the part of Bravo.
Even with the break, Portland still never looked great.
In the end, LAFC’s talent won out. Denis Bouanga, a borderline star in Ligue 1, scored his first MLS goal with a weaving run through the Timbers’ right side of defense. He nutmegged Zuparic and slid his shot past Diego Chara, Bill Tuiloma, and ultimately Aljaz Ivacic.
Unfortunately, it was a sobering reminder of the wide talent gap in MLS, and that the Timbers aren’t the type of club to lure the biggest names.
Worse, it meant the second time in the past 10 months that a team not named the Timbers celebrated a trophy in Providence Park.
And worst, the Timbers could have clinched a playoff spot with a win. even a draw would have put them in a good spot. But the loss renders the final match at Real Salt Lake as a de facto play-in. The Timbers must get at least a draw from RSL, if not more.
- Portland conceded Bouanga’s goal in the 95th minute after scoring in the 95th minute last week.
- This is LAFC’s second Supporters’ Shield in four years.
- Carlos Vela scored his 12th goal of the season. Asprilla scored his ninth.