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Denis Bouanga’s hat-trick leads LAFC past Alajuelense in CONCACAF Champions League match

A second-half hat trick from Denis Bouanga gave LAFC a 3-0 win over Alajuelense in a CONCACAF Champions League first-round game on Thursday in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

With aggregate points determining the winner of the two playoff games, LAFC can advance to the tournament’s quarterfinals even if it loses by multiple goals in the second leg on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Bouanga opened the scoring less than two minutes into the second half, connecting Ryan Hollingshead’s low cross to the far post. They doubled the lead 22 minutes later in almost identical play, with Hollingshead fending off a challenge from Alajuelense Suhander Zúñiga down the right flank before sending another low pass in front of goal for Bouanga, who had an easy finish.

Bouanga closed the scoring in the last minute of regulation time by receiving a back-heeled pass from Ilie Sánchez and beating Alajuelense goalkeeper Leonel Moreira with a right-footed shot from the left side of the penalty area.

Bouanga also had the better chance of scoring in the first half, but he struck a left-footed shot at the left post.

LAFC goaltender John McCarthy made five saves to record his first shutout since November 2021, while Moreira had nine in the loss.

LAFC, which reached the Champions League final in its last appearance in 2020, topped Alajuelense 25-13, with 12 of those attempts on target.

LAFC will once again play in MLS between its two Champions League games, hosting Bruce Arena and the New England Revolution on Sunday night at BMO Stadium. Including their run to their first MLS Cup last fall, LAFC is unbeaten in their last five competitive games and has one loss in their last nine.