Soccer is about taking advantage of those ever-so-infrequent moments as they present themselves. On Saturday night, Dominique Badji did just that. As the footsteps of Yannick Boli grow louder, Badji’s accuracy gets better.
Saturday’s game was a windy, cold, and blustery mess for fans. Rather than sitting in the south stands as usual, we stood on the north end. It was there that my ear heard this comment from a fan:
“We don’t need you anymore, Badji! That’s why they signed Boli!”
The first half was tough to watch. By the eyeball test, the Union looked like the better team, bringing more threats on their end than the Rapids were on theirs (however, the stats apparently disproved this). The Rapids seemed tight when they approached the final third, and Badji just could not keep the ball at his feet—thus eliciting the comment above from a frustrated fan.
There’s a phrase that floats around some corners in regards to when the Rapids don’t play well: “That’s so Rapids.” And the first half I’m sure brought that phrase out a time or ten. As supporters, we love our team and show it in different ways, but we are ready for someone to step up in the final third and hit the back of the net with some sense of frequency!
And so the Front Office brought in Joe Mason, Yannick Boli, and draft Niki Jackson this year. Last year they brought in Stefan Aigner. The year before, Shkelzen Gashi. Caleb Calvert is lurking in Charlotte right now. Jack McBean looks like he’s on the outside looking in as far as a starting XI spot, but is an option off the bench late in games.
While Badji is surely feeling the pressure and has stepped up his game, what has really helped him? Service!
Johan Blomberg—who deserves just as much credit for Badji’s third goal as Badji does—has a knack for beautiful long balls that needed to land in a place the size of a dinner plate and has two assists on the year in three games. Tommy Smith’s header on the first goal came from a precise corner from Jack Price (another great addition), which put Badji with another opportunity to score—which he did, mind you! Goal #2 came from Dillon Serna’s pace, presence, and aggressiveness that put the Union back on their heels. Again, enter Badji who put that goal away.
Let’s not forget the motor of Enzo Martinez and the brilliance of Edgar Castillo. Martinez is another one who has an impact on both ends of the pitch, and the moves that Castillo put on the Union to get past their defenders is a thing of beauty that Rapids supporters haven’t seen in burgundy in a good, long while.
As an aside, on Badji’s third goal, he had Stefan Aigner down the middle and opted to take it himself. While no one should pull drama out of places it’s not, I noticed that when Badji celebrated, Aigner did not celebrate with them. Should Badji have passed? Possibly. Should Aigner have celebrated the win and Badji’s hat trick? Probably. But winning cures all, right?
With Badji in good form now and ever-growing confidence, what happens now? Will Hudson put Boli and Badji up top with Mason off the bench? Or will Boli come off the bench? Wow, this competition is a good thing for the Rapids team... and their supporters.
While that comment may have been made out of frustration, that fan was probably singing a different tune by the end of the match.
You never want to talk about injuries
Rapids supporters are starting to see that the 3-5-2 suits this team well, and manager Anthony Hudson warned us that it would take a few games for the new philosophy to set in. That being said, my friend Kevin asked a great question: “With Marlon Hairston and Castillo on the wings, who would take their place if one went down with an injury?”
Hmm... who on the roster would have the stamina and the athleticism to step in?
I confess, I went home at the half due to Easter services starting early the next morning. On the way home as I was listening to the game on the radio, *gasp* Hairston went down. In watching the replay and seeing how he went down (no contact) and how the doctors were holding his leg, I began praying that this was not an ACL issue.
Off the bench comes the homegrown Dillon Serna. As mentioned earlier, he has pace, presence, and an aggressiveness that is needed to put pressure on the opposing defenses.
But aside from Castillo and now Serna, who else on the Rapids could fill that winger slot? If Castillo went down, would Hudson be open to another formation?
One last predictable comment about Zlatan
While I cannot stand that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is with the LA Galaxy, we should be glad he’s in MLS. While MLS is improving, the league could learn much from players who have had the success of ones like David Beckham, David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard (among others), and now Zlatan. Each year, MLS sheds its ‘retirement league’ status a bit more. We should not see Zlatan’s arrival as perpetuating that, but helping change the reputation of the league and help soccer become more entrenched in the American sports landscape.