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Backpass: Badji makes his case

Badji still can crack double-digit goals this season if the stars align for him, and that’s nothing but good news for Colorado.

MLS: New York City FC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A cool thing about soccer? Sometimes you can make something out of nothing.

Colorado was cruising towards it’s 17th defeat of the season Saturday night. After the first 60 minutes, NYCFC had dominated possession and was staked to a 1-0 lead, which came off a bevy of great scoring opportunities; far more chances than the Rapids had come upon.

And then, something from nothing.

Dominique Badji got a ball off the throw-in, and just took it took the house.

Here he leaves substitutes James Sands and David Villa in the dust, then slips his shot in between defenders Frederic Brilliant and RJ Allen, beating Sean Johnson on the far post with a deadly left foot for his 8th goal of the season. And it gave the Rapids a 1-1 draw, spoiling what would have been a valuable three points for an NYCFC squad that is trying to lock up a knockout-round bye. It also virtually guaranteed the Supporters’ Shield to Toronto FC.

With players jockeying at this point to catch the fancy of Interim General Manager Pádraig Smith, Dominique Badji’s clean, cool goal here is worth a lot of good will. Badji still can crack double-digit goals this season if the stars align for him, and that’s nothing but good news for Colorado, even if that won’t get them to the playoffs. There are three possibilities as to what it all means going forward.

First, maybe Dom can still yet make a case to be the team’s starting striker. Sure, we want the Rapids to go out and get a big name DP striker in the off-season—a Zlatan-sized difference maker that will elevate the Rapids to relevance in MLS—but that’s unlikely. Even though the team will have one DP slot to play with next season and, with some roster reshuffling, a large amount of TAM for one or more significant players,* I imagine they will only spend big money on either (say it with me now for the millionth time) a striker or an attacking mid. If Badji can get a few strong supporting cast members, perhaps he becomes an affordable starting goal scorer in a league where the salary cap makes a few bargain buys an extremely important asset in this league. You can blow the roof off your team’s overall payroll with three big-money players, but every team still has to find eight difference makers that can fit under the MLS cap of $3.8 million. In that reality, affordable goal-scorers like Badji are significantly more valuable than DP goal scorers.

A second, closely-related possibility is that Dom is a strong bench asset that you can use as a late-game sub, a spot-starter, or a guy to push your DP striker in training. That’s not a bad option, as long as he’s ok with going from rising star to proverbial clipboard-holding backup.

And third, Dom’s success is increasing his value for a trade or sale to another team. Maybe the Rapids can extract some additional TAM from a team that wants Badji. Or maybe they can flip him to a team with a top three pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. Maybe there’s a team abroad that thinks he’s worth some cheddar. Every goal Badji gets between now and October 7th raises his price a little bit.

In order for any of those things to happen, Colorado will almost certainly need to re-sign him, since my assumption is that his 2017 contract was a relatively standard one-year deal. Good news for Dom (and his agent): he’s in line for a significant pay raise.

Last season’s young MLS goal scorers with 8 or 9 goals were Patrick Mullins (8), Michael Barrios (9), and Roland Alberg (9). Mullins made $144,000 in 2017; Barrios got $100,000, and Alberg, who transferred from Den Haag in the Eredivisie, made an eye-popping $394,250. Badji is currently making the non-rookie minimum of $65,000 for the 2017 season. Get you paid, Dom.

Also of note

Tim Howard, who already makes a ton of money, did some great things Saturday to keep the ball club in the game.

This was a gorgeous play: a small sided 1-2 that shows the value of a crafty #10 like Maxi Moralez. He hits that flick-on right to Ben Sweat. Sweat can’t finish because Tim Howard stuffs him not once but twice. Good on ya’ Tim.

What does Tim Howard say in the locker room after games?

This past weekend a great article came out from Corner of the Galaxy about the sense of frustration and difficulty the players in LA are feeling as they go through one of the worst seasons in team history. TL;DR, press were held back from their normal routine of post-game interviews because, after a 4-0 pasting by Toronto FC, the press were not allowed to interview players, but were instead ushered down a hallway, some distance away from the locker room, while the team held a closed-door meeting.

Which got me thinking: do the Rapids have moments like this? Does Tim Howard call meetings behind closed doors? As the captain, how does Tim approach the role of leader in a lost season like this? Is he a motivator? Does he get on guys? What does he say to Steve Cooke to help things out? Is he warm and personable? Is he demanding and a no-BS guy? Or is he mostly hands-off, knowing that 2017 is pretty much dead, and that there’s no need to exert wasted effort on a lost cause?

I have so many questions about how professional players abide a lousy season, some of which Brian Jennings answered in an article last week. Still, I wonder how a player with Tim Howard’s record of success gets through a season like this. Tim is a national team hero, a Premier League veteran, and someone that’s started UEFA Champions League matches. How does it feel to struggle with a bottom of the table MLS team when you’ve taken Manchester United to San Siro against AC Milan? I wonder.

Atlanta’s big debut makes me nervous

The big news of the weekend was Atlanta United shattering previous MLS records in single game attendance at their new stadium, as they drew more than 70,000 fans. That’s good for soccer in America, and good for the league.

Allow me to experience a moment of paranoia, but that’s probably bad for the Colorado Rapids. Or at least their fans.

Atlanta’s success makes every city, and every potential-owner, think that MLS 3.0 is a sure-fire cash cow with a civic-pride kicker to boot. And if they can’t get an expansion team, and the league is still nursing along a few hard-luck bottom-feeders like Colorado, then a motivated and energetic owner might just pay to move the Rapids to their city, expecting that every city from 2017 forward will be just like Atlanta.

MLS is currently is set for 23 teams in 2018, when LAFC join the league. After that, the league will be expand to 28 teams by 2020. Twelve cities submitted bids for that expansion, and that doesn’t include Beckham United FC of Miami. That’s twelve cities going for only four spots in the leagues. For a $150 million expansion fee.

When MLS makes a decision about who the four will be, that will leave eight unhappy billionaires with portfolios full of stadium renderings and marketing plans and names with copyrights pending, and no team to show for it. I could conceive of any, or all of them, trying to buy an under-performing MLS team and move them. An under-performing team with an owner that has no history of fidelity to the hometown team.

Nine of the teams are currently already operating in USL, so I think it unlikely that they’d want to offend their current fan base by buying the Rapids. But you never know.

That leaves three bids - from Detroit, Charlotte, and San Diego - all cities with no MLS, NASL, or USL soccer. If any of them have visions of being the next Atlanta United; if any of them can dangle enough cash and taxpayer-financed stadium deals at Stan Kroenke; if any of them can convince Don Garber that they can put 50,000 fans in the seats every week while the Rapids struggle to produce 17,000 paying customers, then we’ve got a real problem.

Listen, this is all just a big if. And none of these teams will be operating before 2019 or 2020. A deal to move the Rapids is years away at best. And by the time the league has 28 teams, Don and company with likely see the dudes with the suitcases full of cash, lining up to buy expansion franchises, and will bump the league out to 32 or 36 or 40 teams. We could all be killed by an asteroid before the Rapids move. So, nothing to worry about right now.

But still. I’m anxious and I thought you should know.

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* An earlier version of this hypothesized the Rapids having two DPs slots. I was forgetting momentarily that Kevin Doyle, a DP last year, had been paid down to a ‘TAM-level’ player’.