A second-half hat trick from Denis Bouanga gave LAFC a 3-0 win over Alajuelense in a first-round CONCACAF Champions League game Thursday in Alajuela, Costa Rica.
With the aggregate score determining the winner of the two-game playoff, LAFC can advance to the tournament quarterfinals even if it loses by multiple goals in the return leg Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Bouanga opened the scoring less than two minutes into the second half, tapping home a low Ryan Hollingshead cross at the far post. He doubled the advantage 22 minutes later on an almost identical play, with Hollingshead dodging a challenge from Alajuelense’s Suhander Zúñiga on the right wing before sending another low pass across the front of the goal for Bouanga, who had an easy finish.
Bouanga closed the scoring in the final minute of regulation time, taking a back-heel pass from Ilie Sánchez and beating Alajuelense keeper Leonel Moreira with a right-footed blast from the left side of the penalty area.
Bouanga also had the best scoring opportunity in the first half, but he banged a left-footed shot off the left post.
LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy made five saves to record his first shutout since November 2021 while Moreira had nine in the loss.
LAFC, which made it to the Champions League final in its last appearance in 2020, outshot Alajuelense 25-13, putting 12 of those attempts on target.
LAFC will return to MLS play in between its two Champions League matches, playing host to Bruce Arena and the New England Revolution on Sunday night at BMO Stadium. Including its run to its first MLS Cup last fall, LAFC is unbeaten in its last five competitive games and has one loss in its last nine.
Baxter wrote from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.