In my previous posts, the first step was addressing whether the team needed help at the given position. Today: striker, whose job is to score goals. The Colorado Rapids were 19th out of 20 teams in MLS in goal scoring. This shouldn’t take long.
I humbly submitted in my article on attacking midfielders that we needed help at CAM. I’ve also shared my opinion pretty clearly this season about whether Kevin Doyle is capable of being the guy at striker for the Rapids. He’s not.
The Rapids two primary strikers this season, Kevin Doyle and Dominique Badji scored 6 goals apiece. Only three MLS teams got less production from their top two strikers: the Chicago Fire (DeLeeuw, 7; Igboananike 4), Houston Dynamo (Manotas 6; Bruin 4), and Vancouver Whitecaps (Barnes 6, Manneh 5). First of all, none of those teams made the playoffs. Second of all, none of those teams got a full season out of either of their strikers: DeLeeuw came midseason and Igboananike was sent to DC; Manotas was a bench piece until Giles Barnes was jettisoned to Vancouver; and Kekutah Manneh broken his right foot in week 17.
Simply put, the Rapids need at striker is Defcon 2 levels of urgency.
Could a new CAM spark a renaissance for Kevin Doyle up top? Possibly, but I doubt it. Doyle’s G-xG* of -1.6 this season, from American Soccer Analysis, tells us his finishing isn’t great. The only forwards in MLS with similar or worse numbers and fewer than 8 goals are CJ Sapong (-4.74), Juan Agudelo (-1.68), Lucas Melano (-2.85), Will Bruin (-2.92), Teal Bunbury** (-3.96), Quincy Amerikwa (-2.61), Jack MacInerney (-1.51), and Nelson Valdez (-4.41).
This is a list of the damned. Every player listed was either replaced or platooned in their position, or is being discussed in MLS circles as a disappointment. Nelson Valdez salvaged one of the worst seasons in MLS history with two goals in the playoffs. Will Bruin was shipped to Seattle the other day. Suffice it to say that with only 12 goals in 50 games, Kevin Doyle has earned a spot on this list of MLS strikers that aren’t striking.
So, can Dom Badji be the guy?
Badji scored 6 goals with an xG of 4.73, for a G-xG score of 1.27. With only 1681 minutes, the MLS players that Badji most closely mirrors are Gyasi Zardes (6, 4.11, 1.89; 1704), Mike Magee (6, 4.48, 1.52; 1566), Khiry Shelton (4, 2.22, 1.78; 1228), and Jack Harrison (4, 1.61, 2.39). That’s three rising stars in MLS and a former MVP.
Outside of the numbers, every Rapids fan has seen Badji’s blazing speed and hulking physique on the break or skulking about the box. Badji’s holdup play has improved over the past year, although he needs to improve on his 2 assists.
Badji needs to continue on his successful trajectory over his first two seasons in MLS, and the Rapids would need to entrust him with the spot. Badji’s been functioning as the backup two seasons in a row: behind (briefly) Deshorn Brown, Luis Solignac, and Kevin Doyle.
So can Dom be the team’s primary striker? Maybe. The team should give Badji the chance to prove himself in pre-season and beyond as capable of being the teams double-digit goal scorer. But the Rapids still need to buy some insurance in case he can’t carry the expectations of a playoff-caliber team.
Buy or Sell?
Sell Kevin Doyle. Buy a replacement.
I’ll get to the potential replacements. But there is the question: can we even sell Kevin Doyle?
Probably not. Doyle’s $1.1 million per year contract runs through 2017, according to reports. The Rapids no longer list Doyle as a Designated Player, meaning the team has paid TAM*** below the DP level of $457,500. That means the team spent $650,000 of its money to open up another DP spot. On some level, Doyle’s contract looks immovable, and has cost the team a lot already. Better to dance with the fella that brought ya, some would say.
I think the Rapids should recoup something for Doyle while he still has any value at all. At the end of the 2017 season, he’ll be 34, and out of contract. Doyle has more value in MLS as a non-DP player, but it would be hard to sell him. The two expansion teams, Atlanta and Minnesota, could both benefit from Doyle’s experience. Another factor is formation: the Rapids lone-striker setup has never seemed to suit Doyle’s skill set as a poacher with some dribbling skills. Doyle lacks raw pace or size, like Didier Drogba or Fanendo Adi, and would be better off in a 4-4-2 or another two-striker set. Other MLS teams, like DC United, Vancouver, and Real Salt Lake, might want to give Doyle a try at attacking midfield, a position he tried for the Rapids in the playoffs with some success.
Outside of MLS, Doyle has limited sale value. He still might bring $200-400K from a team in the English Championship or League 1. The Rapids may not want to take an offer that low. But I think it beats getting nothing in another 11 months.
Who? Luxury Shopping
Here are a couple of ideas. All of these players, like in previous articles on the transfer market, fit the criteria of being young and potentially interested in proving themselves at a higher league.
Former USMNT striker Terrance Boyd is apparently on his way out at RB Leipzig. He’s big and physical and can do the lone striker job. Boyd’s been recovering from a torn ACL for 18 months now. He would not be subject to going through the MLS allocation process. Whether he wants to leave Germany is another question; he’s been linked with 2.Bundesliga side St. Pauli.
Boca Juniors has sent a ton of players to MLS over the past few years: the latest rumor is that the Seattle Sounders are after Junior midfielder Dario Benedetto. Argentinian U23 forward Cristian Pavon is only 20 years old and maybe ready for a move. Across town at Buenos Aires rival River Plate, young Sebastián Driussi already has 14 goals in his Premier League career.
Over in Belgium are two players with potetial. The 25 year-old striker from Mali, Abdoulay Diaby , has 15 goals for Brugge. A player I know Padraig Smith likes is Emir Kujovic, over at KAA Gen. At 28, Kujovic isn’t young, and he’s missed significant time this year with injury.
Burgundy Wave reader Juan Fernandez had a couple ideas: 1899 Hoffheim striker Ádám Szalai, young Polish center forward and FC Nantes player Mariusz Stepinski, Nice forward Valentin Eysseric, and German striker Mario Gomez. That last one seems pretty unlikely; Gomez has 29 goals for the German National team. Still, stranger things have happened.
There’s eleven players the Rapids can afford and that might be the scorer the team needs in 2017. Almost all would be TAM or DP-level players, and all would require a substantial transfer fee.
Who? Bargain Shopping
If the Rapids stay with Kevin Doyle/Dominique Badji and just want a backup, MLS has a few veterans floating around that can be backups. Herculez Gomez didn’t do much for Seattle last year. We could pick him up to not do much in Commerce City. Devon Sandoval and Blas Perez are both available too. Hard pass. Mike Magee looked good in spurts last season, and I’d be ok signing him for the Rapids. Still, nothing here is super exciting. It’d be better to backstop the team with a young player with a future than a veteran player with a past.
The Rapids Academy doesn’t have a promising striker ready to move up yet. The MLS SuperDraft does have some impressive candidates. Most pundits are fairly set on top five players in the draft , and it includes two talented strikers: Abu Danladi of UCLA and Jeremy Ebobisse of Duke. With the Rapids holding the 15th, 21st, and 24th picks, they have what to trade up with, and I think they should do it. If they can get into the top three, one of Ebobisse, Danladi, and Jackson Yuell would still be there for sure.
If the Rapids stand pat and don’t trade up, UCSB striker Nick DePuy, Maryland forward Gordon Wild, South Florida’s Nazeem Bartman, Syracuse’s Chris Nanco, and Cal forward Christian Thierjung might still be available with their late first round picks. Neither of them is nearly as hyped as Danladi and Ebobisse; Danladi was declared a top forward in College soccer last year, and Ebobisse has been given a Generation Adidas tag and has already been in training with French side Le Havre and MLS club DC United.
If I had my druthers, the Rapids would use their DP slot to get an attacking midfielder, and use a mix of GAM, TAM, and picks to move up and get Danladi or Ebobisse, both of who look ready to either challenge for a starting job as striker or capable of apprenticing or backing up for the 2017 season.
To wrap up, the Rapids have a lot of work to do over the next month. Much like last year, the transfer news for Colorado has been quiet so far, but is likely to pick up in late January. In my humble estimation, the Rapids hierarchy of needs looks like this:
1. Attacking midfielder
3. Left back
4. Center back
5. Wide midfielder
Let’s hope the team gets what they’re looking for. The 2017 season doesn’t start in March, with the first game. It starts in January. With the right moves.
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* G - xG is goals scored minus ‘expected goals scored’, a metric that looks at the shot position and measure the odds of that shot going in, normalized to 1.0. If a player has an xG of 8.5, the average soccer player will have scored 8.5 goals on the shots he took that season. A -1.6 G-xG tells you that a soccer player is either unlucky or a below-average finisher.
** Bunbury isn’t totally a forward; he really plays more of a RM/RW hybrid. Still, that number was so bad I had to include him.