In Dominque Badji’s first stint with the Colorado Rapids, he scored 24 goals in 91 appearances. He was twice the team’s golden boot winner, finishing 2017 with nine goals and 2018 with seven, the latter despite featuring in just 16 matches before being traded to FC Dallas midway through the season.
After finishing 2018 and playing all of 2019 with FC Dallas, the Senegalese striker moved to Nashville SC for the 2020 season. With the campaign shortened by the global pandemic, Badji made 12 appearances for the Boys in Gold but tallied just one goal and one assist. The 2021 season began much the same. Badji made just five appearances and earned one assist after being sidelined due to an injury.
That’s when the Rapids’ front office saw an opportunity to bring back one of the most productive forwards in club history. On July 29th, the Rapids struck a deal with Nashville SC to acquire Badji for $50,000 in General Allocation Money, and the move took the forward by surprise.
Once I left, it never crossed my mind," Badji said. "Even after leaving Dallas and heading to Nashville, coming back never crossed my mind."
But now he is back. And with Nashville SC and FC Dallas in the rearview, he’s scoring at a torrid pace. He’s scored a goal in each of his last three starts, spanning three of the club’s last four games. He’s full of a confidence that only comes from putting the ball in the back of the net.
“At the end of the day,” Badji said, “your job and your position and how people judge or rate you is your production. You can be a forward and have great link-up play and hit great passes and do all that. But if you don’t score, it’s not doing much.”
In Badji’s mind, scoring one goal leads to the next goal. It is that cumulative, knock-on effect that’s been evident in his play in recent weeks as he has earned his spot in the starting XI. Confidence creates goals, which builds on top of that more confidence, and all of that equals a lethal finisher peaking at just the right time.
“That’s what you feed off,” Badji said. “That’s the energy you feed off of. That’s what I’ve always fed off of. And so the more goals you get, the more your all around game comes together. You’re holding up the ball more, you’re passing better, you’re just doing all the little things better. But all that stems from goals.”
The man who scores the goal gets all the credit, but there are always unsung heroes on every team. Badji arrived midseason, but even after three years away from Colorado, the nature of the league and professional sports means there were plenty of new faces to get to know. On top of meeting his new teammates off the field, he has been working on integrating on the pitch.
“I haven’t really been able to play with a lot of attacking players consistently,” Badji said. “But all the attacking players… Everybody has an impact in one way or another. Jonathan Lewis, Mikey [Barrios], Mark-Anthony [Kaye] and Younes [Namli]; especially those forward thinking, attacking players. It suits my game because when they get the ball, they face forward. I know they want to go forward. I know that they want to go score goals. And so being surrounded by them, I know what to expect when they get the ball.”
As the Rapids close out the regular season Sunday when they host LAFC on Decision Day, there will be no dearth of storylines and narratives. The Rapids can still move up from third in the Western Conference; head coach Robin Fraser and his staff will be evaluating every player ahead of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs; who the Rapids face in Round One; and that the Rapids need one point to break the club record for points in a single season.
There is a little bit less sunshine every day, the temperature drops a little bit more and the leaves are falling. All of these are visible indicators that the business end of the MLS season has arrived. After Decision Day, it’s win or go home for everybody. A team’s regular season points, goals and run of form don’t matter anymore. Nothing carries over. But that setup might just be ideal for a forward like Badji who puts the past in the past and begins preparing for the next match at the end of the last one.
“I think to continue this run of form is just forgetting the last game,” Badji said. “Every game brings something new, so you can’t get complacent.”