Scottish Messi exposes Steve Clarke blindness as real Messi not missed by MLS

Ryan Baldi
Dennis Bouanga and Ryan Gauld
Dennis Bouanga and Ryan Gauld

The fast-approaching Copa America and European Championship meant many of the biggest stars in MLS were absent this past weekend.

But last season’s Golden Boot winner was still around and scoring, while an overlooked Scot showed what the Tartan Army are missing in Germany.

MLS winners

A banger from Bouanga
The omissions from Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay squad of Facundo Torres and Cesar Araujo meant Orlando City were stronger than might have been expected for the visit of Los Angeles FC.

The away side, on the other hand, were without a key Uruguayan of their own, with Cristian Oliveira – who’d started every game so far this season – called up for the Copa America. That meant Denis Bouanga, the 2023 Golden Boot winner who ordinarily starts on the left side of Steve Cherundulo’s attack, had to operate from the right.

Luckily for LAFC, the Frenchman wasn’t bothered one iota by the positional switch.

Orlando, who possess the worst home record in MLS this season, had the chance to take the lead in the first half, but Torres skied a penalty, his first career miss from the spot. Moments before the break, Bouanga showed him how it’s done, firing down the middle to maintain his perfect penalty record of four from four for the 2024 campaign. Bouanga had won the penalty himself, drawing a mistimed lunge from Nicolas Lodeiro inside the box.

In the second period, Bouanga turned provider, releasing Mateusz Bogusz on a breakaway from the halfway line to make it 2-1 after Martin Ojeda had equalised.

And Bouanga capped a stellar display with a goal of typically breath-taking quality. The rapid 29-year-old winger wove between two Orlando defenders on the edge of the penalty area before dribbling around goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar to score his 12th goal of the season.

Bounaga is now level on goals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez and just four behind Chicho Arango in the race for the Golden Boot – an impressive tally given he began the campaign slowly, with just two goals from his first six appearances.

The 3-1 victory was LA’s sixth win in a row. They’re up to second now in the Western Conference standings, just one point behind Real Salt Lake, and they’ll add Olivier Giroud to their impressive frontline after the Euros. With Bouanga back to his best, the 2022 MLS Cup winners look like serious contenders again.


Yuya beauty
When Yuya Kubo came off the bench for FC Cincinnati away to the San Jose Earthquakes, the Western Conference’s bottom side, the reigning Supporters Shield champions were drawing 1-1. Eight minutes later, they were 2-1 down.

Then Kubo took command.

In the 78th minute, the versatile Japanese forward latched on to a Luciano Acosta through ball and finished from the edge of the area to bring his side level. Two minutes later, he was on the scoresheet again, with Acosta’s creativity pivotal once more. The diminutive Argentinian playmaker drove into the box, exchanging a one-two before finding Kubo, who finished from close range to give Cincy the lead.

And Kubo completed a hat-trick in the 87th minute, with Acosta registering a treble of assists, too. The 2023 MLS MVP slipped the ball through to the former Gent attacker, who coolly rolled past goalkeeper William Yarbrough from 20 yards.

In the space of nine minutes, Kubo scored as many goals as he’d notched in the past four seasons combined. He now has seven in 2024. Acosta’s hat-trick of assists, meanwhile, takes his tally for the season to 12, taking him clear of Messi (nine) as the league’s most prolific provider and reaffirming his MVP candidacy.

They had to battle more than expected, but Cincinnati are back to winning ways after a surprise 2-0 defeat to Nashville in their last MLS outing and a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions Cup final. They’ve now won eight of their last nine games in MLS and sit second in the East, two points behind Inter Miami and with two games in hand.

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MLS losers

Philly’s folly
Philadelphia Union would’ve fancied their chances at home to Inter Miami this past weekend, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez both absent for international duty.

They’d have felt even better about their hopes of stealing three points from the Eastern Conference leaders after Tata Martino’s side were reduced to nine men at Subaru Park.

Level at 1-1 after Mikael Uhre had given the Union an early lead and then Julian Gressel had equalised with his first goal of the season, Miami lost David Ruiz to a second yellow card in the 67th minute and Tomas Aviles to another double-yellow with five minutes to play.

Smelling blood, Philadelphia pushed forward in great numbers as time ticked down toward the final whistle, striving for their fifth win of the season.

But in doing so, they left Jakob Glesnes back as the lone defender and the disadvantaged visitors launched the kind of swift attack to make Messi and Suarez proud. It ended with substitute Leo Afonso racing past Glesnes to notch a match-winner in the 93rd minute.

The unlikely win keeps Inter top of the pile in the East, while Philadelphia have now taken just two points from their last seven home games.


Steve Clarke’s eyesight
It counted for little in the end, as the Vancouver Whitecaps slipped to a 3-2 defeat to a resurgent New England Revolution, but a stunning brace from Ryan Gauld in MLS Matchday 20 showed Scotland what they are missing at the Euros.

There was one surprise MLS-based call-up for the Tartan Army’s 26-man roster, with in-form New York Red Bulls forward Lewis Morgan named among the travelling party for the tournament in Germany despite not having appeared for Scotland since 2018.

But there ought to have been another. Once dubbed the ‘Scottish Messi’, Gauld was regarded as one of the best prospects to come out of Scotland, impressing as a teen with Dundee United before joining European giants Sporting CP. However, now 28 years old, he has never made a senior appearance for his country.

If his MLS form in any indicator, that should have changed long ago. Gauld signed for the Whitecaps in July 2021 and has consistently stood out as one of the best players in the league, with 32 goals and 26 assists in 95 MLS games.

And the brilliantly inventive wee man showed again this past weekend why he is so vital for Vancouver, and why he could be of equal value to Scotland. Gauld scored twice to take his tally for the season to nine goals from just 17 games, putting him well on track for a career-best single-season goals return.

His first saw the 5ft 6ins attacking midfielder score with a cleverly flicked header from a Javain Brown cross. And his second – admittedly coming when the game was over, with the Whitecaps 3-1 down into stoppage time – was a rasping left-footed strike into the top corner from 25 yards.

The selection of Morgan proves that Scotland manager Steve Clarke clearly has his eyes on MLS. After electing not to pick Gauld, though, he might need them testing