Thursday, June 20, 2024

Cristian Olivera scores twice as LAFC beats Whitecaps

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LOS ANGELES — Ready to hunt from the opening whistle, the Los Angeles Football Club overwhelmed the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, dominating the visitors 3-0 at BMO Stadium.

A pair of first-half goals from Cristian Olivera and another shortly after the break by Mateusz Bogusz all came courtesy of Denis Bouanga, who delivered his first three-assist performance in an LAFC uniform, joining Diego Rossi and Mark-Anthony Kaye for the most assists in a single match.

“I try to be decisive, either scoring or passing the ball,” Bouanga said. “Today I did the passes and I’m really happy about it.”

While Vancouver goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka dealt as well as he could with LAFC’s heavy early pressure, making four quality saves in the initial quarter hour, the wingers proved too much for the Whitecaps to handle.

After Takoaka turned aside several chances, Olivera deservedly put LAFC on the board in the 18th minute when Bouanga fired a line-drive cross at the Uruguayan making a run to the far post.

Said Olivera: “Denis and I have a good understanding. He sets me up and I set him up as well.”

LAFC then picked Vancouver apart for its second goal in the 36th minute. Weaving through the Whitecaps, the ball eventually ended up at Bouanga’s feet. The Frenchman muscled past a defender, finding Olivera for a simple tap-in to give the 22-year-old native of Montevideo five goals in three appearances after scoring once in his previous 10 contests.

“He’s been working out really hard to put himself in those areas and also finishing those moments in games in order to get on the scoring board and that work is paying off,” Cherundolo said this week after Olivera connected on a brace during Wednesday’s 3-1 U.S. Open Cup Round of 32 victory at Las Vegas.

“I think he’s the same player as me,” Bouanga said of his fellow attacker. “He’s attracted by the goal.

“I wish I could have given him a third pass to celebrate himself.”

Bouanga pushed it to 12 goal contributions against the Whitecaps in seven games on Bogusz’s insurance goal, his fourth of the year.

The field-long sequence began when fullback Omar Campos hit the ball into space down the left side, where Bouanga sprinted to the Vancouver box before setting up the young Polish attacker with a left-footed cross just beyond Takaoka’s reach.

The final assist pushed Bouanga to team-leading five in a dozen league games, two shy of his regular season tally in 31 appearances last year.

Following LAFC’s first midweek match of the season (the first of three in May), Cherunolo is utilizing the roadmap the club built last year when games every three days was the norm.

“I thought we did it excellent last year and hopefully we’ll get through these weeks this year in the same fashion,” Cherundolo said. “That’s the idea.”

Heading to St. Louis next Wednesday, “the attitude that we have at home, we must bring that everywhere on the road,” said Olivera, whose team is 0-4-1 away from BMO Stadium. “If we fix that, the rest will follow.”

No one on LAFC enjoys playing games in rapid succession more than Bouanga, whom Vancouver head coach Vanni Sartini described as a killer leading up to the sides’ first meeting since LAFC ended the Canadian’s 2023 campaign with a playoff sweep.

Coming in as the last unbeaten Western Conference team on the road this year, Vancouver owned their hosts, taking 10 of 12 points away from BC Place while conceding no more than one goal in any of those results.

Since beating LAFC at BMO Stadium last June, the Whitecaps had compiled the best road record in MLS.

Unable to handle Bouanga and his teammates, however, LAFC (5-4-3) maintained its unbeaten home record, improving to 5-0-2 on Hugo Lloris’s third clean sheet while denying the Whitecaps (5-3-3) a six-point edge in the standings with a game in hand.

“Our ideas were implemented very well by the players, really to a tee, and everything worked,” Cherundolo said. “That’s how we like to see LAFC. It’s not always going to be like that, but I thought we were very good in the first half.

“They were focused tonight. And when they’re focused and don’t cheat — cheat the game, cheat our system, cheat the way they’re supposed to play — they’re good, really good, and that’s what you saw tonight.”

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