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LAFC's Bouanga eyes records, title and World Cup dream

LOS ANGELES, United States -- Los Angeles FC's French forward Denis Bouanga can add another milestone to his short but impactful career in Major League Soccer when his team take on Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference final on Saturday. 

The 29-year-old joined LAFC from Saint-Etienne, following the famous old club's relegation to the second division last year.

Bouanga, a late developer, had a strong final season in Ligue 1, scoring nine goals and providing six assists for "Sainte" and some eyebrows were raised when he decided to continue his career Stateside.

But the forward, who plays internationally for Gabon, the birthplace of his father, has rapidly become the most potent attacking threat in MLS after helping his club to the MLS Cup title last year.

So far this season, he has claimed the Golden Boot as top scorer in the regular season with 20 goals in 31 games.

He is now just a goal away from equalling the record goals in a year, in all competitions, for an MLS player having notched 37 in 2023 including seven in the CONCACAF Champions League and four so far in the MLS playoffs.

Bouanga's form suggests he could break that record set by his team-mate, Mexican Carlos Vela, with 38 goals in 2019.

The Le Mans born striker has 10 goals in his last six games and struck the winner in the 1-0 win at Seattle in last week's semi-final which kept alive LAFC's hopes of defending their title.

"If he has to score 10 goals to give us the trophy, it's perfect for us," said Vela.

"If he needs to score one each game and we win 1-0 then we are more than happy," he added.

- Dangerous -
With Bouanga's emergence as LAFC's main strike threat, the 34-year-old Vela has gradually dropped into a more creative role, leaving the scoring duties to his speedier team-mate.

"In the end, we have to put all individual things away and we will help put him in a good spot. He's in a really good moment, so we have to use that for us. I always say: When you have people scoring goals, and playing good, you have to give the ball in a good place to them. He can be dangerous," said Vela.

"We are working hard to be the best team in this league, so we have to use our best guys. Right now, Denis is