Updated: Oct 8
Since losing the Concacaf Champions League final against Club León, the Leagues Cup quarterfinals against C.F. Monterrey, and the Campeones Cup to Tigres UANL, there has been speculation that LAFC's current roster isn't good enough to compete against the top teams in the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.
To make matters worse, LAFC couldn't generate goals in four consecutive matches dating back from Sept. 20 through Oct. 1. The Black and Gold looked fatigued, lifeless, and frustrated during that span.
However, since dismantling Minnesota United 5-1 on Oct. 4, LAFC looked reinvigorated as they dominated Austin FC by a margin of 4-2 on Saturday afternoon on the road at Q2 Stadium, securing a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
"We're playing at a level of football that's pretty good, and it's hard to beat us, hard to score on us, and hard to defend against us," Cherundolo said postgame. "The last two games, for sure, were excellent performances, and the guys deserve all the credit in the world because they put in hard work on the training field and in the video room, taking critique in the right manner and applying the solutions in training, but also in the game.
Once again, Dénis Bouanga was brilliant on the pitch as he flirted with a near hat-trick. The Gabonese international finished the game with two goals and an assist. He now leads the MLS with 19 goals, leading the Golden Boot race by three goals. Bouanga has found the back of the net five times in the last two games, making a strong case for himself as the league's MVP.
LAFC Head Coach Steve Cherundolo gave the 19-year-old prospect, Nathan Ordaz, the nod over veteran striker Carlos Vela due to fatigue, as the Los Angeles-based team was coming off a Wednesday night game and had to make the trip to Austin, Texas, in just a matter of days.
Ordaz played well despite his inexperience, finding himself in the right spots inside the box and almost scoring a goal in the 54th minute, but he missed the cross by inches.
Midfielder Timothy Tillman opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a brilliant pass from Bouanga inside the box. In the 43rd minute, Cristian Olivera's fancy footwork got him past three defenders inside the box, only to be fouled by defender Leo Väisänen.
The play was reviewed by VAR and subsequently overturned and whistled as a penalty. Bouanga blasted the ball from the spot, making it 2-0 in the first minute of stoppage time before the half.
Austin had no answer for LAFC's offense. In the 54th minute, Bouanga once again made his presence felt, running past Austin's Jon Gallagher to push the ball into the net off a fantastic cross from midfielder Mateusz Bogusz.
Olivera put the game away in the 68th minute after Bouanga's miss in what would have been his third goal of the match. Olivera somehow managed to squeeze past three defenders to make it 4-0. Olivera looked ecstatic in his celebration after not being able to find the back of the net in the last few games; he finally scored his well-deserved goal.
"The goal is secondary, the primary goal is for the team to score and to perform," said Olivera postgame. "Tonight's game turned out where the situation was where I could score, the circumstances turned out that way and we're happy with the result."
Austin attempted to claw back with a header from Väisänen in the 75th minute. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Giorgio Chiellini surrendered an own goal, making it 4-2. With the loss, Austin was eliminated from the playoff race.
LAFC is getting hot at the right time, stringing together two straight victories. They look to ride the momentum against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Oct. 21, which will be the last game of the regular season.
With the victory, LAFC is currently in second place in the Western Conference standings with 51 points. The Black and Gold now control their own destiny and can finish the season as the second seed with a win against the Whitecaps.
"It's a week to not completely let your guard down but to get some much-needed rest and recovery time," said Cherundolo. "We'll use that time to our full advantage. We have another full week of training to get ready for our final regular-season game at Vancouver, which is a difficult place to play, but we've won there before and we want to do it again."
LAFC secures top fourth seed in the Western Conference
Tillman - '13 Goal
Bouanga - '45+'1 Goal
Olivera - '68 Goal
Väisänen - '75 Goal
Chiellini (OG) - '90+'4 Goal