Top Stories

Denis Bouanga, DC United headline the Best of MLS for Week 12

By Favian Renkel and Justin Ruderman

Welcome back to Week 12 of Justin and Favian’s Weekly MLS Awards where SBI staff writers Justin Ruderman and Favian Renkel bring you a glimpse at the best of each week in MLS.

Rivalry week is upon us as the Golden Boot race continues to heat up aided by a goalscoring bonanza across the league. No time to waste, let’s jump right in!

Player of the Week

Justin Ruderman: Denis Bouanga (LAFC)

Goalscorer turned provider.

Last season’s CCL and MLS Golden Boot winner scored a hat trick in every competition he played in through his first full campaign. On Saturday night, still leading the team in goals here in 2024, Bouang opted for a hat trick of assists instead. 

Beginning with a pair of assists to Kike Olivera (18’ & 36’) followed by setting up Mateusz Bogusz (57’), Bouanga found the Whitecaps weakness. Continually breaking down Vancouver from his customary left wing, Bouanga’s three assists remained identical in model while increasing style points as the game progressed.

His first was a direct, immediate cross into the feet of Olivera for a tap-in. For the second assist, Bouanga added some fancy footwork to skip past Mathias Laborda before putting his cross on an equally simple and enticing platter for Olivera to tap-in. Last but not least, Bouanga hit on the counter, running with pace at the Whitecaps back line, cutting outside, and playing another pinpoint cross into the box for a tap-in – this time for Bogusz. Game over.

Favian Renkel: Christian Benteke (D.C. United)

Benteke has his head on straight. 

Talk about potentially one of the best strikers MLS has ever seen—who would have thought that Benteke would become this dominant and even improve in Year 2? When D.C. United brought Benteke over last season, many thought this was an instance of Wayne Rooney bringing over a player he was familiar with and a player who would be in the twilight of their career. Fans around the league might have labeled it a “retirement league” transfer or a “MLS 1.0” transfer, but my, oh my, is Christian Benteke proving all the doubters wrong this season.

Benteke is the best true striker that MLS has ever seen since Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the Belgian is just that much more dominant in the air than any other striker in MLS that he needs to be given a spot in MLS history. If Benteke can keep up this pace this season, the former Crystal Palace star will break a ton of headed goal records in MLS. 

Young Player of the Week

JR: Cristian “Kike” Olivera (LAFC)

Sure, both of his goals were tap-ins, but goals are goals. Show me another young player scoring a brace this weekend. Besides, being in the right place at the right time is half the job.

Cristian “Kike” Olivera has struggled for goalscoring form since arriving in Los Angeles last summer but that finally looks to be changing. After scoring just three goals in his first 27 matches for the club, Olivera has scored five goals in his last three matches in all competitions including consecutive braces this week beginning in the U.S. Open Cup.

If Olivera is able to find form the rest of the season instead of looking back on this moment as a purple patch, the entire Western Conference will be trembling with the fear of facing a Bouanga, Giroud, Olivera front three come playoffs. 

FR: Jules-Anthony Vilsaint (CF Montreal)

Talk about making the most of your opportunities! Jules-Anthony Vilsaint was playing in the striker position for CF Montreal’s biggest game of the season to date, due to the injuries of Matias Coccoro and Josef Martinez. The 21-year-old Canadian was having a breakout season for “The Impact”—yes, you remember when they used to have that name—with two goals, an assist, and the trust of Laurent Courtois, drawing over 60,000 fans to Stade Saputo. Vilsaint had everything going for him entering this start. He played wonderfully; the eligible Haitian soccer player scored a goal and provided an assist against Lionel Messi and Inter Miami. Unfortunately, CF Montreal didn’t end up grabbing any points from the matchup, but nothing looks bleak in Quebec as Laurent Courtois’ expertise in getting the most out of his young players is definitely showing.

If you have Sorare, maybe pick up Jules-Anthony Vilsaint on the cheap right now.

Goal of the Week

JR: Matias Rojas (Inter Miami CF)

It’s getting predictable at this point. Lionel Messi scores another incredible free-kick from distance to kick off an Inter Miami victory. Wait, what? It wasn’t Messi?

That’s right. With Messi off the pitch receiving treatment (for which he grabbed headlines by criticizing the new MLS “Off-Field Treatment Rule” mid-broadcast), Rojas stepped into the role of set-piece taker and did not disappoint. From well past 25 yards out, Rojas struck his free kick with aplomb as it curved and dipped into the top right corner past a flailing Jonathan Sirois.

If AI adjusted Rojas to look like Messi, you wouldn’t know the difference – and that’s the best compliment I can give him.

FR: Luciano Acosta (FC Cincinnati)

Can we both choose Matias Rojas?

Seriously though, the entire weight of Luciano Acosta’s goal and what it means for the state of Ohio should place the reigning MVP on this list. Scoring a nail in the coffin for a “Hell is Real” match is a massive moment, and putting a defender on skates at the same time is always nice.

Team of the Week

JR: Los Angeles FC

In a week filled with goals close contests, LAFC was one of just two teams to record a clean sheet while meaning the biggest margin of victory in the league in their 3-0 win over Vancouver.

Given my POTW and YPOTY selections it’s no surprise that I have gone for LAFC as my TOTW as Denis Bouanga and Kike Olivera had the match won by the hour mark. The Black and Gold dominated the match in nearly every statistical category, most notably in chance creation where they created five big chances to Vancouver’s none, racking up 3.6 expected goals (xG) to the Whitecaps 0.8xG.

If he didn’t already, Vanni Sartini is going to have nightmares about Denis Bouanga.

FR: D.C. United

At the start of the season, when D.C. United went on a Middle East preseason tour with their brand new head coach, Troy Lesesne, alongside Inter Miami, there were many doubts about this team’s ability to perform and concerns that they could possibly embarrass themselves. However, the opposite happened. D.C. United had a solid showing, while their league mates from the South had a whole different narrative after their world tour. United have been exceeding expectations ever since the start of Lesesne’s tenure.

Early in the season, Benteke referred to this tour in press conferences as a good way for the team to bond quickly. Being so far from home and having to spend a lot of time together allowed the team to quickly find chemistry. This D.C. United team has been showing that they mean business this season. After handing Atlanta United their third consecutive home loss for the first time in their history, D.C. United is looking like a true playoff contender in an Eastern Conference that already has arguably the four best teams in MLS: Inter Miami, FC Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls, and former MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew.

With a chip on Lesesne’s shoulder and Benteke still having something in the tank by the end of this season, D.C. United has a great chance of being a true dark horse in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Any team should be worried about having to defend crosses from Stroud aiming for Benteke every time they attack. Especially Inter Miami, not having the tallest lineup to defend against Benteke, there could be some upsets if Benteke continues this historic run. If United adds another goal scoring threat and another solid defender, this team could even be a title contender.

United knows what their strength is, every team knows what their strength is, and no one can stop it. That’s why this team is destined to upset and spoil the party for teams with high expectations this postseason and keep exceeding the expectations that was laid out for them before the season started. 

Best thing we saw this week

JR: Portland Timbers x Tillamoook

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. 

Following controversy surrounding front of jersey sponsor Dabella early this season, the Portland Timbers parted ways with that partnership. While searching for a new sponsor, the Timbers have played without a main sponsor on their kit this season…until now.

“A match made in Oregon” they called it. The *perfect* match. Tillamook, a locally-sourced cheese and ice cream company available nationwide, has become the Timbers new jersey sponsor. The cheese has won a bevy of awards over the years and let me assure you personally, the ice cream is just as tasty.


In the recent matches, we saw 52 goals scored across 13 games, and notably, Lionel Messi didn’t score any of them! This occasion marked the second-highest tally of goals scored in a single day in MLS history, and it was only the third time that 50 or more goals were netted in one day league-wide. The record for the most goals in a single day stands at 57, set on August 6, 2022. Perhaps the five goals that Messi didn’t score could have tied this record. It’s remarkable that the MLS managed to achieve such a feat nonetheless. 

Significant contributions came from three Golden Boot contenders: Chicho Arango, Christian Benteke, and Luis Suarez. It almost seems as if players who were highly talented in previous years are elevating their game to a new level with the former Ballon D’Or winner now in South Beach. 

Benteke is just three goals shy of matching his last year’s total of 14 goals, despite playing 21 fewer games. The Belgian is on a tear, already having scored three hat tricks this season, including one last week. Meanwhile, Arango is just five goals away from having his best season in MLS to date. It definitely seems like all teams, including their star strikers, are eager to make a statement.

This record may not stand for long as Olivier Giroud is now an LAFC player, all I know is that this finale to the season will be a good one. 


  1. To play the contrarian, I thought the Acosta goal was nothing special. He had all kinds of space and half of the goal open to him. It looked like a pretty simple finish to me. As for Benteke and D.C. United, I haven’t seen them yet. However, when a new star comes into the league, it usually takes a while for other teams to adjust and prepare their defenses for them. I would withhold anointing them as a superstar and top team when it is still so early. There have been a number of strikers with better resumes than Benteke who have come into the league. People should remember that Ibra had several seasons in Italy where he was still a top scorer after he left MLS.


Leave a Comment