Analysis: Behind big games from Crepeau, Chiellini, and Bouanga, LAFC downs Seattle
November 27, 2023
REIGNING CHAMPIONS LAFC are still in the hunt for a second consecutive MLS Cup after an impressive 1-0 away win over the Seattle Sounders thanks to a goal against the run of play by Denis Bouanga and stellar night from goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.
The game began with the Seattle Sounders on fire and putting LAFC on their heels. But after a pair of very impressive saves from Crepeau, the first on a shot from Josh Atencio and the second on a 1v1 against Jordan Morris, LAFC began to find their feet.
Still against the run of play, it was Denis Bouanga with the game’s only goal in the 30th minute on a nice pass from Timothy Tillman to play him into the attack. For both club and country (Gabon), he now has 12 goals in his last eight games. In all competitions for LAFC this season, he has 37 goals in 46 games for the best calendar year ever for an MLS player.
For the rest of the game, LAFC focused on containing Seattle as opposed to trying to push forward for a second goal. In the end, it was ultimately successful. LAFC had only 31% possession and completed just 181 passes compared with Seattle’s 496.
But in the end, LAFC came into the game playing like an underdog and ultimately won like an underdog – a goalkeeper having a huge game and an elite goal scorer doing what he does best.
"I am not sure that was the plan for the full 90 minutes, but once you get a lead, that is sometimes what it can turn into," said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo.
“I felt like [LAFC] had one good chance and that was the goal,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnak said. “They were clinical in that moment, they scored, and they didn’t really need to attack anymore. It’s a long game and they had a lead, and they were protecting the lead although we did create chances and putting them under pressure with set pieces, stuff like that. It just didn’t go our way. We were missing that final piece. I feel like the last pass or the shot or the touch for the guy to shoot it was not as sharp as previous games.”
Maxime Crepeau’s performance in this game was a great story for a number of reasons. Even beyond it being a game-changer, this comes after a season when he suffered a broken leg in MLS Cup in 2022 and had to miss out on the World Cup for Canada.
While 2022 is ended with massive disappointment, Crepeau is putting it back together again in 2023.
“He had an incredible game,” Cherundolo said. “To win big games, you need players having big performances.”
But now, Crepeau has an even bigger test. LAFC will be favored to win at home against Houston and if they do, the final will be on the road somewhere in Ohio against a favored opponent.
For Crepeau, he will now be in a position to claim the No. 1 for Canada’s national team.
LAFC’s Georgio Chiellini was a big reason why LAFC was able to defend its way to victory. After LAFC scored the goal, they didn’t have to play with a high defensive line. Now 39, Chiellini struggles in an open game where it can be a footrace, but when he’s deeper and can rely on reading the game and anticipation, there is no one better.
On Sunday, Chiellini wasn’t comfortable early when LAFC were without a goal and Jordan Morris was able to get past him. But once the game changed, Chiellini put on a masterclass and was a reason why LAFC was able to survive without the ball and sitting deep.
"His timing and his intelligence to anticipate, to read moments in the game, when to step, anticipate crosses, getting early body position on forwards is amazing,” Cherundolo said of Chiellini. “When he gets into an open game and he has to run with forwards, it's not the greatest. But his timing, his anticipation, his football IQ is something that this league I don't think has ever seen in that position. We're very blessed to have him and to see him at this stage of his career to put everything he possibly has into it for this group."
Seattle at a crossroads
This game felt like the end of the road for Seattle. Heading into this season, it seemed as if relying much on Nicholas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, and Joao Paulo was asking a lot of an older crew. And Lodeiro and Ruidiaz became bench options late.
It’s always tough to manage aging star players who are legends for both the club and city. Seattle is now entering a time when it is going to have to say some tough goodbyes. It was a defining moment when both were subbed into this game.
"And change is inevitable," said Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer. "It’s pro sports, we can’t be afraid of change. We can’t be afraid of making decisions. And the club’s going to survive, the club is going to keep going. We’re going to find new, good players. Again, Craig [Waibel] and I will go take some time over the next couple of weeks and decide and make decisions and go into next year with a plan and we’ll let you guys know what we come up with."
Yes, Seattle has to make necessary changes. But Lodeiro has been one of the best players in the history of the league for what he did for Seattle both in winning the Champions League as well as MLS Cups. That’s tough to replace.
"I feel sad. Many years here with the club, in the city. I feel sad, first because we lost," Lodeiro said. "At some point, I feel sad too because it was my last game in front of the beautiful fans and in this beautiful city. I’m really sad. But that’s life."