LAFC triumphed 5-2 over Vancouver Whitecaps in game one of their best-of-three series MLS Cup playoffs, as braces from Denis Bouagna, Jesus Murillo and Ryan Hollingshead helped propel the Black and Gold to victory.
The reigning MLS Cup champions took the lead 18 minutes in, as Hollingshead struck home from close range to put his team 1-0 up. The right-back’s headed effort from a corner kick was saved by Yohei Takaoka, but he persisted to find the back of the net with his weaker foot while nutmegging the Japan international in the process.
But the Whitecaps responded in the 27th minute, as Brian White was put through on goal and made no mistake by scoring with his favored right foot with a curled effort. White helped the Vancouver Whitecaps tremendously throughout the regular season, and did just that again by bringing the game to level terms.
Bouanga however, had other plans and was determined to put LAFC back in front. The 2023 Golden Boot winner, boasting 20 goals this season, cut in on his right foot and curled in a beauty of a shot past Takaoka, who could do nothing but watch Bouanga’s shot fly to the top corner.
The visitors then pulled one back again as Ryan Gauld connected with Sam Adekugbe off a corner kick. Adekugbe’s headed effort was well-placed and put the game back on an even playing field.
LAFC took the lead for the third time of the night after Boaunga’s strike was deflected into the path of Hollingshead from a corner, and the full-back scored again with his left foot.
It was a 2-2 draw in the first half, but the action didn’t stop there.
Bouanga found his second of the night from a set piece. Carlos Vela rolled a free kick into the path of the 28-year-old just outside Vancouver’s penalty area, and he fired home a low-driven strike that may have taken a deflection off a Whitecaps defender en route to finding the back of the net.
The Black and Gold weren’t finished scoring, as Jesus Murillo scored his team’s fifth of the night with an exceptional headed effort that bounced off the crossbar twice before finally crossing over the goal line.
LAFC, now 1-0 up in the series, travel to BC Place for game two on November 5. The team can advance to the next round of the playoffs with a win over the Whitecaps, who will be aiming for survival in front of their supporters.
GK: Maxime Crepeau – 5/10 – Wasn’t helped by his defense on the goals conceded, but maybe could’ve done more to prevent the second goal.
RB: Ryan Hollingshead – 8/10 – Found the back of the net by nutmegging Takaoka, doesn’t get much cooler than that.
CB: Jesus Murillo – 7/10 – A decent outing in the backline capped off with a late goal to seal the win for LAFC.
CB: Giorgio Chiellini – 6/10 – Kept things in check in the defense alongside Murillo.
LB: Diego Palacios – 6.5/10 – Picked up an assist that will likely be forgotten due to the nature of Bouanga’s incredible goal.
CM: Tim Tillman – 6/10 – A quiet game for the USMNT player in the midfield.
CM: Ilie Sanchez – 7.5/10 – Controlled the tempo in the middle of the park for the Black and Gold.
CM: Mateusz Bogusz – 6/10 – Drew a few fouls in dangerous areas but was quiet outside of that.
RW: Cristian Olivera – 6/10 – Had a few nice runs on the wing but was lacking the end product.
ST: Carlos Vela – 7/10 – Although he wasn’t directly involved on the stat sheet, his delivery from a corner on the first goal helped get things started.
LW: Dénis Bouanga – 8.5/10 – He picked up right where he left off on Decision Day, scoring against the Whitecaps for the second straight week.
RB: Sergi Palencia (71′ for Hollingshead) – Neither helped nor hindered.
ST: Mario Gonzalez (71′ for Vela) – 5/10 – Didn’t bring much to last 20 minutes of the contest.
CB: Aaron Long (85′ for Chiellini) – N/A
CM: Kellyn Acosta (85′ for Bogusz) – N/A
Steve Cherundolo – 9/10 – His lineup worked to near perfection. The only negative aspect is his defense looked vulnerable in the first half, but they were able to clean that up after half time.
GK: Yohei Takaoka – 4/10 – Should’ve done better on the first goal conceded, but there was no stopping Bouanga’s strike. Was hung out to dry by his defense in the second 45.
CB: Ranko Veselinovic – 4/10 – Couldn’t contain LAFC’s explosive attack.
CB: Tristan Blackmon – 5/10 – Stepped in to make a few solid interceptions but was poor like his fellow center-backs.
CB: Javain Brown – 5/10 – Was hooked at half time.
DM: Andres Cubas – 6.5/10 – Assisted White with a clever through ball.
RM: Richie Laryea – 6/10 – Tried to make things happen on the wings but it wasn’t enough.
CM: Alessandro Schöpf – 5.5/10- Struggled in the midfield against Sanchez and Tillman.
CM: Pedro Vite – 6.5/10 – Was better than Schöpf in the middle of the park, but he alone could’t carry the entire midfield.
LM: Sam Adekugbe – 7/10 – Got on the end of Gauld’s cross with a header that no one saw coming.
ST: Brian White – 7/10 – Scored his 16th goal in 2023 with a well-placed finish to keep Vancouver in the game.
ST: Ryan Gauld – 7/10 – Put on his playmaking boots once again to link up with Adekugbe for his team’s second goal.
CB: Luis Martins (58′ for Brown) – 5/10 – Was unable to shore up the defense when brought on.
CM: Ali Ahmed (71′ for Schöpf) – 5/10 – Didn’t really bring the desired impact off the bench.
CM: Junior Hoilett (71′ for Cubas) – 5.5/10- The veteran player couldn’t bring his team back into the game.
CM: Sebastian Berhalter (82′ for Vite) – N/A
LM: Levonte Johnson (82′ for Adekugbe) – N/A
Vanni Sartini – 6/10 – Although he probably wasn’t happy about the two goals conceded in the first half, his team was still in the game at the break. However, his side were unable to keep pace with Cherundolo’s quality attack, his changes didn’t have a positive impact, and he’ll hope his side come out firing in game two.
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