Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) expelled their demons on Sunday night, securing a victory in Seattle for the first time since their inaugural season on March 4, 2018.
With the 1-0 road win, LAFC is just one victory away from their second straight MLS Cup Final. The Black & Gold will host the Houston Dynamo at BMO Stadium on Dec. 2 in a highly anticipated matchup between the third and fourth seeds in a win-or-go-home scenario.
The defending champions are firing on all cylinders, both offensively and defensively, at the right time. Los Angeles’ offense, led by Golden Boot winner Dénis Bouanga, ran right through the best defense in the MLS. In the 30th minute Bouanga recorded his 37th goal of the year across all competitions off a brilliant through ball from Timothy Tillman.
“Dénis, once it’s at his feet, I’ll put my mortgage on him scoring that,” said defender Ryan Hollingshead. “He’s a special player. We need him and he was huge for us tonight.”
With the goal, Bouanga is one goal shy of equaling MLS history. His 37 goals have him behind teammate star forward Carlos Vela who netted 38 goals across all competitions during his MVP campaign in 2019. With two games potentially left in the playoffs, Bouanga has an opportunity to break the MLS record for most goals in a calendar year.
“I came to LA to make records and to win MLS like we did last year,” Bouanga said postgame. “I’m really hoping we can do back-to-back.”
The offense isn’t the only thing this team boasts, the defense was vital in leaving Lumen Field with the win. LAFC Goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau was a major factor throughout the 90 minutes of play with seven saves and keeping the Sounders off the score sheet.
Seattle came out fast and attacked the defense in the 2nd minute of the opening half, Crépeau made his presence known with a heroic save from outside the box.
Just two minutes later, striker Jordan Morris ran right past Jesús Murillo and Giorgio Chiellini to find himself one-on-one against Crépeau in what was supposed to be a sure goal but once again Crépeau heroics saved the day for Los Angeles.
“When he made that save, in my head I was like ‘It’s over, we just won the game,’” said Hollingshead. “That sort of momentum shift when they’ve got a clear chance like that, a goal-scorer like Jordan, I mean this guy’s been one of the best goal-scorers in our league for almost a decade now. This guy’s been scoring goals for so long. He doesn’t miss a ton of those; that’s a testament to Max just standing him up, making a decision.”
Trailing 1-0 in the first half, Seattle pressed LAFC throughout the match. The Black & Gold showed how underrated their defense is.
In the 60th minute, Morris attempted a shot inside the box, but defender Diego Palacios brilliantly deflected the ball. Seattle persisted; in the 76th minute, LAFC narrowly escaped conceding with a crucial save on the line by Tillman.
LAFC held on by a thread; in the 81st minute, midfielder João Paulo nearly scored outside the box with a beautiful shot that Crépeau deflected. It seemed the Sounders were about to level the game at any minute, but Crépeau had other plans.
“The one-v-one with Jordan Morris was an excellent save, not every 'keeper makes that save,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “I think the deflected shot from distance toward the end of the game … that’s not a save that’s expected.”
“Those two saves were big,” he added. “Kept us in the game early and closed it out for us late.”
The final minutes were tense as the Sounders' relentless attack continued. In the 94th minute of stoppage time, midfielder Albert Rusnák's powerful shot rattled the crossbar. However, the defense held firm, and Crépeau kept the home team scoreless.
“Honestly I’m enjoying football again and that’s the part I missed so much, is just enjoying my game," Crépeau said in the postgame press conference. That’s how I can express myself tonight.”
Seattle’s 19-game unbeaten home playoff streak came to an end. The last time Seattle lost a playoff game at home was in 2013.
LAFC is now two games away from lifting the MLS Cup, however they have their sights set on Houston. The winner will travel to face off against the Eastern Conference winner, either the Supporters’ Shield champions FC Cincinnati or Columbus Crew – for the Dec. 9 championship match.
“This is the target, this is the goal,” Crépeau said. “We have Houston next week and then there’s two small 90 minutes, we have to take it one 45 at a time obviously. But we have to go again and we’re happy to go back home as well.”