Denis Bouanga: The MLS Defenders' Nightmare

Discover the secret behind the relentless talent of Denis Bouanga, the star revolutionizing LAFC and leaving opponents in a panic
San Jose Earthquakes v Los Angeles Football Club
San Jose Earthquakes v Los Angeles Football Club / Shaun Clark/GettyImages

Oh, Denis Bouanga... just hearing that name sends shivers down the spines of many MLS defenders. The French-Gabonese player is not just another talented player; he's a force of nature on the field, a storm ready to wreak havoc on any defensive line that dares to stand in his way. Since his arrival at LAFC in August 2022, Bouanga has shown why he deserves to be called "the most dangerous player" in the league.

This is where Bouanga truly shines, transforming from a good training player into an unstoppable titan on game days. Ryan Hollingshead, his teammate at LAFC, admits he faces "Denis B" in practice, but knows that in the heat of competition, Bouanga turns into "Denis A+," the one he wouldn't want to face at 7:30 PM on a Saturday night at BMO Stadium.

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And it's not just the opinion of a teammate. Players and coaches across the MLS echo the same sentiment. Jim Curtin, coach of the Philadelphia Union, who once played as a defender in the league, bluntly states that Bouanga is "as good as any player I've seen in our league."

But what makes Bouanga so special? Well, let's talk stats. In 66 regular season and playoff games, he's scored 41 goals and provided 16 assists. And that's not all: he's created 91 scoring chances for his teammates.

Bouanga is a constant threat on the field. His ability to cut inside and shoot with his right foot, while also being able to run to the byline for precise crosses, makes him unpredictable. Defenders like Juan Mosquera of the Portland Timbers know this all too well. Mosquera, with experience in high-level competitions like the Copa Libertadores, highlights the difficulty of predicting Bouanga's moves, whether he's cutting inside or using his left foot.

D.J. Taylor of Minnesota United adds that Bouanga's explosive change of direction is what makes him especially hard to mark. There are no unnecessary moves; every step is calculated to get the ball into the back of the net as quickly as possible. Taylor, by the way, has managed to keep him scoreless in a few matches but knows that facing Bouanga is a continuous test of skills.

Andrew Brody of Real Salt Lake emphasizes the need to stay fully focused for 90 minutes against Bouanga. "You can defend him well for 89 minutes, and then in one moment, he can change the game," says Brody.

He's also a nightmare on counterattacks. Greg Vanney knows all too well the danger Bouanga poses in quick transitions. LAFC is a well-oiled machine under Steve Cherundolo's command, and Bouanga is the main engine of this machine. A single mistake by the opponent is enough for Bouanga to capitalize and turn a solid defense into utter chaos.

Jake Davis of Sporting Kansas City mentions that Bouanga keeps pressing for the full 90 minutes, always looking to score or assist without losing quality throughout the game. "He was doing the same things for 90 minutes. He didn't drop in quality during the whole game," says Davis.

Curtin compares Bouanga to legends like Jaime Moreno and Landon Donovan, players who maintained the same intensity from start to finish. And that's the big advantage of having a player like Bouanga on the team: he not only scores goals and creates chances but also instills confidence in the whole team. They know that even on a bad day, Bouanga can resolve the match with a single moment of brilliance.

Bouanga also challenges coaches to rethink their tactics. As Mosquera says, facing him is not just about defending well but also about attacking him. Bouanga may be relentless on offense, but he also needs to be tested defensively. And it's this duality that makes confrontations against him so intriguing.

And now, with El Tráfico approaching, where LAFC will face the Galaxy at the Rose Bowl, all eyes will be on Bouanga. Will he manage to maintain his stellar level of performance and lead his team to victory once again?