Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) opened up their title defense on Saturday night with a convincing 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
MLS 2023 Golden Boot Winner Denis Bouanga, and defender Ryan Hollingshead each had a brace for the black and gold, who won the first game of the MLS’s new best-of-three first round series.
The league introduced the new playoff format prior to the start of the season. The new format has nine teams in each conference making the playoffs with the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds squaring off in a single elimination match prior to the best-of-three first round.
After the best-of-three round, the semifinals, conference finals, and MLS Championship are each single elimination matches with the higher-seeded team hosting the game.
The reigning MLS Cup champions opened up the scoring in the 18th minute when Hollingshead found the back of the net from the end line to make it 1-0.
But Vancouver, who faced LAFC at home in the season finale last week, answered right back with an easy equalizer from Brian White following a terrible turnover by Jesus Murillo.
Over a 22-minute span, both teams scored two goals each, as the back-and-forth- battle in the first half kept fans on the edge of their seats.
Bouanga, who received his Golden Boot Award prior to the game, put LAFC up 2-1, after this sensational run inside the box.
The LAFC lead would be short-lived as English midfielder Sam Adekugbe soared over Mateusz Bogusz for the header that leveled the score at 2-2.
The two teams went into the half tied at two, but it would be all LAFC in the second half.
Hollingshead notched a brace when he was the lucky recipient of a rebound following a broken set piece.
Bouanga became the first player in LAFC history to have two multi-goal playoff games in his career when he buried a ball passed Whitecaps’ keeper Yohei Takacka for his second of the night.
Murrilo made up for his earlier mistake with a superb header that sealed the deal of the black and gold in the 80th minute.
Vancouver will host game two of the best-of-three series next Sunday at BC Place. LAFC can win the series and advance to the semifinals with a victory in that match.
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