LAFC, facing Crew, chase second straight MLS Cup title
Posted on: 08 Dec, 2023 at 06:21 AM
Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
When Los Angeles FC travel to oppose the Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup final on Saturday, the title could be decided on the performances of two stars: the visitors' Denis Bouanga and the hosts' Cucho Hernandez.
Bouanga is trying to help LAFC become the first repeat MLS Cup champs since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011 and 2012. The Gabon international scored 20 regular-season goals to win the 2023 MLS Golden Boot in his first full season in the league, and he has logged four more goals this postseason for LAFC.
The most important of those might have been his first-half strike on the break in LAFC's 1-0 road win over the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference semifinals. Bouanga neatly finished his opportunity from a counterattack on a day when Seattle created the majority of the chances.
Though LAFC dominated opponents in their run to winning the 2022 Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup, Bouanga's combination of athleticism and technical prowess gives his team something it didn't have last season: the ability to consistently earn victories even when it's not controlling play.
"He's ruthless, simple as that," Crew wingback Julian Gressel said, according to MLSsoccer.com. "When I watch the goal, for example, against Seattle, where he runs, makes a 50-yard sprint and doesn't slow down one bit to get an absolute quality shot off to score the goal. That goal, if you watch that, I think that is who he is. And that shows you how dangerous he can be."
Hernandez has followed a similar trajectory in trying to help the Crew win their third MLS Cup overall and second in four years. He joined Columbus during the 2022 secondary transfer window and became one of the league's most productive attackers this season.
He also has four playoff goals, as well as two assists, after finishing fourth in the league by scoring 16 times in the regular season.
Similar to Bouanga, Hernandez also ended the regular season on a tear, with 14 goals and three assists over 13 games in all competitions since the start of September. Hernandez added 11 regular-season assists, and he set up Christian Ramirez's late extra-time winner in the 3-2 Eastern Conference victory at FC Cincinnati last week.
"He's the full package," LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said, according to MLSsoccer.com. "He's technically good, he's physically good, he's savvy, I think he's intelligent, he knows where to float, kind of be off the shoulder of defenders, he's played at a very high level."
--Field Level Media