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LAFC’s Chiellini, Vela and Bouanga ponder MLS futures

By AFP - Dec 11,2023 - Last updated at Dec 11,2023

The Columbus Crew celebrate with the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Football Club during the 2023 MLS Cup at Lower.com Field on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio (AFP photo)

COLUMBUS — Los Angeles FC’s attempt to defend their MLS Cup crown ended in a 2-1 defeat to the Columbus Crew on Sunday and now, after losses in two finals in a season, they face the possible exits of their biggest name players.

The futures of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, Mexican forward Carlos Vela and, more surprisingly, top scorer Denis Bouanga, are unknown as the team head into the off-season.

Former Italy captain Chiellini says he will decide in the coming days whether to retire at the age of 39 drawing the curtain on an illustrious career.

“It could be my last game. Give me a couple of days in order to know,” Chiellini told reporters after the match.

“I was very focused on that game and now, I need to [take a] break for a little bit and just enjoy the family. I’ll go back to Italy and then I’ll have a final decision,” he said.

Chiellini said he did not want to rush into a decision and then change his mind and added he had three options.

“I could come back, and I have opportunities to stay six months, to stay one year or retire. I want to think about that. We’ll see about it,” he added.

Mexican forward Vela, 34, who has been the face of the franchise since they entered MLS in 2018, could also be heading out of the club given that his contract is now up.

Vela occupies a ‘designated player’ slot, meaning he can be paid a bigger salary which does not count against the salary cap, and LAFC might look to downscale his deal.

The former Real Sociedad striker was non-commital when asked about his future before the final.

“I don’t really know. I’m free, we will have talks and we’ll see if I can continue. We have to see if both sides want to continue, I would love to stay here. But if that doesn’t happen, I will look for other opportunities elsewhere and continue to enjoy the little football I have left.

“I would like to decide what’s best for me, perhaps play for one or two more years. The end of my career is closer and I have to enjoy it,” he said.

 

Bouanga departure? 

 

Perhaps more concerning to coach Steve Cherundolo, as he looks to improve on a campaign which also saw them lose in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, were the post-game words of his French forward Denis Bouanga.

The 29-year-old, signed from Saint Etienne, was top scorer in the MLS regular season with 20 goals and it was his second-half strike that got LAFC back into Saturday’s game.

But his post-game comments suggested his future might be elsewhere.

“I am really happy to have played for a year and a half here, to get to know MLS, to get to know CONCACAF and I’m not saying anything ahead of time, but I’m really happy to have played here. I think LAFC is a great institution and after a year and a half, it’s been really good,” he said.

Asked if he might be considering a return to European football, Bounga said: “It’s a possibility, yes. I leave that to the other people, even if I have a few years left on my contract here. I just have to say that I’m really happy at LAFC, very happy here. But yeah, it’s a possibility I have to return to Europe,” he said.

“I let the club and my agents figure all of that stuff out. But as I said, I’m very honored to have worn this jersey and to have played for this institution here,” added Bouanga, who scored 38 goals in all competitions throughout 2023.

Given Bouanga remains under contract for another two seasons and his departure would require a major purchase to replace his goal-threat, LAFC would surely demand a significant transfer fee.

The Gabon international reportedly cost LAFC around $5 million when he joined the club in August last year.

 

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