The day Major League Soccer rosters freeze through the MLS Cup on Nov. 5, Denis Bouanga participated in his first training session with the Los Angeles Football Club.
With half a dozen regular season matches remaining as the Supporters’ Shield and home field advantage hang in the balance, LAFC’s new designated player, who signed at the close of the league’s secondary transfer window on Aug. 4, has no time to test the MLS waters heading into the most pressure packed moment of the season.
“He’s coming at a good time,” said LAFC general manager and co-president John Thorrington. “We obviously have a very important six games left in the season and the run in which this team will be tested as it already has. The addition of Denis will help us in our objectives in winning the Supporters’ Shield, winning the West and hopefully an MLS Cup.”
Forced to wait in France for nearly a month while the American immigration process unfolded, Bouanga watched from afar as European stars, wearing Black & Gold, played the kind of attacking soccer that motivated him throughout his time in France’s first division.
While other recent additions had weeks to assimilate, establish match fitness, or draw connections with teammates, Bouanga is expected to contribute immediately. The 27-year-old Frenchman debuted for LAFC in Houston on Wednesday, straight off the plane to the pitch, and played the last 18 minutes as the team failed to avoid a third straight loss.
As for expectations, losing streaks are not on Bouanga’s mind. The playmaker went so far as to describe LAFC as “the Paris Saint-Germain of MLS.”
Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi are global icons with PSG, a club that won the French league three out of the past four seasons and has the resources to sign whomever they wish.
LAFC doesn’t operate in the same financial universe, of course, but noteworthy transactions this year, both buying and selling, prompted unfounded questions about how the front office, led by Thorrington, made the most of MLS’s financial rules to build a roster and added Bouanga, Gareth Bale, Giorgio Chiellini and Spanish forward Cristian Tello in one summer.
“My confidence in this group is very high,” Thorrington said. “I think we have a phenomenal group of players. I think in all seasons you have a bump in the road. We’re in one now. I’m not saying I’m glad it happened but I believe this situation, this challenge that we now face toward the end of the season, is great preparation and gives us great information as we head to the playoffs.”
Bouanga certainly does not register like Bale. The Welshman boasts 48 million followers on Instagram. Chiellini has five million. But like them, Bouang chose LAFC over interested European clubs because he was sold on “the project” — the total picture of what LAFC is intending to build.
Delayed in France for most of August while U.S. immigration paperwork was handled by the club, Bouanga, who underwent a full preseason with his former team AS Saint-Etienne, now enters a sprint to the finish alongside multiple high-quality options.
“He has been playing at a very high level his entire life,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. “We’re not asking anything different than his previous clubs and coaches. So he’s well prepared. Now it’s just a matter of the small details of getting to know your teammates. The only way to do that is time on the field so that will come naturally. I don’t anticipate him needing a lot of time to get caught up. His natural and physical attributes are right up our alley as far as our game model goes. He should fit in nicely.”
As Bouanga steps into his athletic prime, LAFC views the powerful forward as tailor-made for them. He agrees.
“I see myself playing here as long as possible and I know there is a good feeling in Los Angeles,” Bouanga said. “Life is good for me and my family. We all chose this.”