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2017 Player Reviews: Dominique Badji

The Rapids leading goal scorer had a solid season. Could he be the next breakout star of MLS?

Seattle Sounders v Colorado Rapids - Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs Photo by Agence Nice Presse/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Dominique Badji

What we said at the end of 2016:

Someone must teach the dark arts of being a lone target striker to Dominique Badji. Gordon can do it. Badji seems to be growing each season with the Rapids, but if he hopes to be a long term presence in this league, he’ll need to add a few more tricks to his repertoire.

2017 Counting Stats: 33 GP, 29 GS, 9 G, 6 A, 2540 min, 5 YC

Key Stat:

2017 Expected Goals: 9.36 ; Goals: 9 ; Minutes: 2540

2016 Expected Goals: 4.73; Goals: 6 ; Minutes: 1681

Season Highlights:

As the leading goal scorer with 9 goals, Badji had the bulk of the team’s highlights. Badji’s exquisite finish on Kevin Doyle’s throughball-azo merited serious consideration as his season highlight. I could have instead selected Dom’s game winner against New England at home in March, or his late winner against Houston on the road in August, as highlights. The Houston one is a stoppage-time roofer on a Stefan Aigner chip that floats like a perfected weighted matzo-ball.

But I think Badji deserves distinct praise for his one goal, one assist performance against San Jose.

The goal:

The assist:

In this game he was a one-man wrecking crew against poor David Bingham. Badji tackled, he ran, he fired a blistering shot; later in the game he held up two defenders and made a pass from his butt. That thumping victory ended a 7-game winless streak for the burgundy and blue, and signaled to the fan base vague hopes of a turnabout. But of course, a mediocre July and a winless August ended all that hope stuff.

Season Lowlight:

Badji missed from five yards out against Minnesota. We lost this game 1-0, and it was an historic loss, because it was also Minnesota’s first-ever MLS win. Also (fun fact!) if we had won or even tied this match, we’d have finished 9th in the Western Conference and MNUFC would have finished 10th. Because of this miss, it was the other way around. It’s not like it cost us a spot in the Europa League or anything, but sometimes a big miss is significant. Imagine if we had finished 7th and the Loons had finished 6th.

Season Review:

The thing I have repeated over and over again about Dominique Badji is that he’s a fourth round draft pick. Came outta nowhere. Cinderella story. Fourth round picks don’t become MLS starters or get into the running for Golden Boot every year. Never happens. (OK, sometimes it happens.*) And so we as Rapids fans have been lucky to have spun straw into gold. Dom Badji is gravy. Dom Badji is the all-you-can-eat sundae bar at the wedding you crashed. You get the idea.

But this is damning by faint praise. It assumes that, because we should have expected absolutely nothing from Badji, we should be overjoyed that he produces anything at all. That was certainly true in his rookie season of 2015. And you could still say that in 2016. But it isn’t true anymore. We can no longer be satisfied that he’s a productive surprise. He occupies possibly the most important spot in the starting XI each week. There are now expectations.

So I’m not going to be grading him on a curve. He’s not a winning lottery ticket. He’s the starting striker for a team with cup aspirations. He will not be compared against MLS fourth rounders anymore. He will be compared against Ola Kamara, or Dom Dwyer, or Robbie Keane.

Badji is the team’s best striker. A man of gifts both physical and technical. He’s fast and strong. He can take you on the dribble, he can hold up play, and he can shoot some too. Although not the strongest in the air, he scores with his head a fair amount, too. Put him and Marlon Hairston on the break together, and they strike fear in MLS backlines.

As wonderful as scoring 9 goals was (and it really should have been 10 except for that missed PK on the last day), we are going to need more goals from Dom this year. And based on his goal and xG numbers from up above, I think it can happen. We see steady growth from 2015 to 2016 and 2016 to 2017. Give Badji minutes, give him an effective creator to feed him the ball, and he will finish for you.

The proverbial $64,000 question for Badji, for fans, and for this season’s Rapids, is whether Badji can build on his solid 2017 and become a breakout MLS star in 2018. For the team to go into the season with Badji as one of its striker options is good. But fans are firmly divided on Badji’s ceiling. Some folks, probably the minority based on conversations I’ve had, think Badji can step up and score 14 or 15 goals for the Rapids. Another larger group of fans is more pessimistic: to them if Colorado doesn’t sign a top flight striker before our first match on February 20, either to pair with Badji and take some of the weight off his shoulders or to straight up replace Badji as the team’s number one, then this team is dead meat on a stick.

Count me in the irrational fanboy category. Unlike other Player Previews, I’m going to make a prediction here for 2018. If Badji gets more than 2,600 minutes, he will score 14 or more goals. He has the tools. He has the talent. Will Anthony Hudson give him the chance?

Abbie’s 2017 Grade: B

Rabbi’s 2017 Grade: B**

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* The exception that proves the rule here is Chris Wondolowski. But that 2005 supplemental draft was nuts. The fourth round also yielded Dan Gargan, Jeff Larentowicz, and Dan Kennedy. How weird was that draft? Click that link and tell me if you recognize any of the names from the first, second or third round. And yet the fourth round yielded four MLS lifers.

** Like I said, Badji isn’t getting graded on a curve anymore. So despite scoring a lot for the Rapids this year, and having a good finishing touch according to his xG numbers, 9 goals isn’t enough. A ‘B’ grade is good. A ‘B’ grade is fine.