LAFC oust Whitecaps, punch ticket to conference semifinals


Denis Bouanga's penalty sends LAFC to MLS Cup playoff semis

Denis Bouanga scores from the spot to seal LAFC's progression to the MLS Cup playoff semifinals over Vancouver.

MLS Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga scored on a penalty kick in the 24th minute as LAFC defeated the host Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 on Sunday night to sweep a best-of-three first-round Western Conference playoff series.

Third-seeded LAFC, the reigning MLS Cup champions, will face the winner of the FC Dallas-Seattle series in the conference semifinals.

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LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, a native of Canada who previously played for the Whitecaps, made five saves in posting the shutout, including a diving stop on a shot by Ryan Gauld in the final seconds of the match.

Vancouver goalie Yohei Takaoka made six stops.

Bouanga's penalty kick was awarded after a three-on-two LAFC counter-attack following a Vancouver corner kick.

Mario Gonzalez got the ball near the top of the 18-yard box and went down after trying to split two Whitecaps defenders. Referee Tim Ford immediately pointed to the penalty spot despite protests from defenders. The foul was called on Tristan Blackmon, though replays showed it was Ranko Veselinovic who appeared to cause Gonzalez to go down with a shove to the back. Veselinovic was given a yellow card for arguing the call.

Bouanga blasted the penalty kick into the upper right corner of the net as Takaoka dove the other way.

Takaoka made three saves in the first half to keep the Whitecaps in the game. They included back-to-back diving stops on shots by Timothy Tillman and Bouanga in the 28th minute.

Crepeau didn't have to make a save in the first half, though he did have two anxious moments.

Teammate Ryan Hollingshead, while attempting to clear the ball, put a diving header just wide of the right post in the 10th minute. Late in the half, Crepeau took a back pass and attempted to clear the ball, but it was blocked by Vancouver's Brian White and bounced off the turf and just over the crossbar.

Crepeau was forced to make his first save in the 46th minute, smothering a close-range attempt from Richie Laryea after a run down the right wing.

Crepeau also made a diving stop at the right post after a header by Ali Ahmed in the 54th minute. Crepeau dropped to his knees to stop a sharp-angled shot from White in the 71st minute and held his ground to grab a header from the Vancouver striker in the 85th.

Bouanga appeared to record a brace in second-half stoppage time, but a video review determined he was offside. Vancouver coach Vanni Sartini was issued a red card for arguing before the review was completed.