Bouanga Blowout: Three Takeaways From Whitecaps vs LAFC

MLS: CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals - Whitecaps vs LAFC on April 5, 2023

ANALYSIS – The Vancouver Whitecaps suffered a brutal blow to their Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League hopes on Wednesday, as they lost 3-0 to a decisive LAFC at home. The Whitecaps now have the improbable task of going to BMO Stadium to try to turn this tie around.

All But Over?: Three Takeaways From Whitecaps vs LAFC

#1: Individual Brilliance Shines Through

Up until the 55-minute, the game was quite even. LAFC had one glorious opportunity in the first half after a clever ball from Vela sent Bouanga clean through, but his first-time shot went wide. That chance was about the only worthwhile chance for both teams in the initial 45. Whitecaps then even began the second half brighter than their opponents and looked the likelier side to open the scoring. That was until Denis Bouanga decided to turn a switch and turn the game on its head singlehandedly.

His ferocious shot from just outside the box bypassed two onrushing defenders, curled up and over the shocked Yohei Takaoka, and managed to curl down just in time to clip the underside of the crossbar and go in. To put how ridiculous that shot was, analytical website GameFlow had that shot’s xG at just over 0.01. Bouanga then created the second goal by closing down and tackling a panicked Cubas, and putting it on a plate for Kwadwo Opoku to finish. The last goal was another Bouanga special, as he cut through the Whitecaps’ defense, twisting and turning and sending his markers back to UBC, before lashing a left-footed rocket into the roof of the net. In the space of 10 minutes, he all but ended the tie by himself.

What is incredible is that, according to LAFC Head Coach Steven Cherundolo, Bouanga was having a bad game up until then. It makes you think how much worse it could have been had Bouanga been on that level all night…

#2: Game of Fine Lines

The biggest frustration for the Whitecaps will be that they allowed 10 minutes, out of a tie of 180 minutes, virtually decide the tie. Up until then, they were fully in the game, with all to play for. While LAFC had the clearer chances, Whitecaps created quite a few decent chances as well. They were resolute defensively, only once getting caught off guard in the first half. It ultimately just came down to the finest of details that decided the match. For the first goal, Cubas and Gressel were just not close enough to close down the angle for Bouanga to score, although it would be harsh to put that goal on them with how incredible the resulting shot was.

For the second, a dangerous pass from Takaoka was received poorly by Andres Cubas, who had been having a stellar night until this moment, as he stumbled upon receiving it, and panicked before Bouanga eventually stole it away from him and laid it off for Opoku to score. That simple stumble cost a crucial away goal in the tie. And for the last goal, the Whitecaps defenders overcommitted just a fraction too much, allowing Bouanga to get that half-space to be able to thunder it home. Once again, it is harsh to say that this third goal is a blatant error, as it was mostly down to Bouanga’s wonderful skill, but in such a tight game, the result will come down to these fraction-of-a-second moments. And the Whitecaps were just on the wrong side of it.

#3: Whitecaps Game Plan Didn’t Pay Off

Vanni Sartini mentioned in the post-game press conference that the game plan was to contain them for three-quarters of the match, and then bring on the young blood that made the difference in last Saturday’s rout of CF Montreal, to make the difference once more. It seemed that he was hedging his bets on being able to avoid conceding a goal until around the 60-minute and then relying on the likes of Simon Becher and Ali Ahmed to try to nick a result at the end. In hindsight, it seemed like a good plan, but a risky one. And in the end, the bet didn’t pay off.

By the time Becher and Ahmed came on, the game was already starting to get away from the Whitecaps. Even before the game, when the lineup was announced, many fans were incensed that neither Ahmed or Becher was starting in such an important match. They were instead replaced by a floundering Cristian Dajome and an aging Russell Teibert. And it wasn’t even that both of these replacements necessarily played poorly. It was just that they were not as impactful as Becher and Ahmed were expected to be had they started.

Sartini then mentioned later in the conference that Ahmed’s absence was down to his religious practice of fasting for Ramadan, as the timing of the match didn’t align with his breaking of his fast. But he could have well come on at the beginning of the second half to liven things up and inject that energy early on. While Becher’s movement and chemistry with Brian White could have allowed them to get a goal before the Bouanga show commenced. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but it still feels like the executed plan was not the correct one for this matchup. This now leads to the Whitecaps having to climb Everest to try to get back into this tie.

Games Coming Up for Both Teams

The Vancouver Whitecaps will now host Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. This is while LAFC will host Austin FC at BMO Stadium on April 11 at 10:15 p.m. ET. Both games will be shown live on Apple TV.

The Whitecaps will travel to Los Angeles as they play next Tuesday at 10:15 p.m. ET at BMO Stadium for the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League. That game will be available on OneSoccer.


Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports on April 5, 2023, of a Denis Bouanga Headshot.