COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – For all of the Colorado Rapids’ poor form, tough luck and disappointing results in 2017, they’ve had at least on bright spot on their roster.
Forward Dominique Badji has thrived during Colorado’s step-back season, leading the team and setting career-highs with nine goals and six assists in 32 regular season appearances. He’s emerged as a threat up top for a Rapids team that hasn’t given him much help in the attack – outside of Badji, Colorado have scored just 22 goals in 33 games this year.
“It’s been good, but honestly, I think I did leave a lot of goals on the table this year,” Badji told MLSsoccer.com. “I think I could’ve scored more goals, but every year I just want to get better and score more goals. I did that this year and I want to carry that on for every year to come.”
Those statements were a prime example of Badji’s competitive nature; he finds little consolation for his team’s rough season in his own individual statistics.
“As a team, it wasn’t a season that we’re very proud of,” he continued. “But there’s definitely a couple of things we can take away from it, to learn on, to build on for next season.”
Now approaching the end of his third season, Badji can speak from experience. The Senegalese striker has improved his offensive production year upon year, and it’s earned high praise from interim head coach Steve Cooke.
Nevertheless, Badji knows he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in today without the strong support of family, friends and coaches along the way.
His soccer journey first began with the strong support of his family and his African upbringing. Born in Senegal, Badji spent his childhood in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, scrapping his way through the pickup games that would form in the streets, his younger brother Charles often in tow.
“We didn’t have it easy growing up, so everything that we’ve gotten we had to fight for,” Badji said. “It’s in our DNA.”
Soccer was also in their DNA. Their father, Daniel, played for Senegal at the youth levels as well as Senegalese club ASC Diaraf as an attacking midfielder before his career was ended by a knee injury.
“I still talk to my dad after every game,” said Badji. “He’s my harshest critic, honestly. Every game he watches, he’s breaking it down, and what he says is usually right.”
After his soccer career ended, Badji’s father embarked on a career as a French teacher and translator for the Peace Corps, which later led to a move to the United States.
In the US, Dominique was introduced to organized soccer for the first time at the age of 15. With his raw talent, he excelled enough to earn a scholarship to Boston University.
At BU, the bright-eyed freshman would meet a future friend and Rapids coworker who’d become both a rival and close friend. In 2011, current Rapids PR & media relations manager Diego Garcia was an upperclassman starting forward on the school’s soccer team. He and Badji would battle for a starting spot, with Badji eventually beating out the older Garcia. The freshman went on to lead the Terriers with five goals and three assists on his way to earn America East Conference Rookie of the Year honors.
“I was just impressed with how good he was,” Garcia recalls. “He brought a lot of physical attributes at the college level. You could tell he had something special, it was not so much cockiness, but a confidence from the start. He took the starting forward position and made it his own.”
After college, Garcia’s soccer career took a different path, as he began working in the international communications branch of the MLS communications department in New York. In 2015, he would cross paths with Badji once more. Garcia was hired by the Rapids media group; weeks later Badji, was picked by Colorado in the MLS SuperDraft.
“For me as well as for him, to have a familiar face around was great,” said Garcia. “With me working for the club and him playing, seeing each other every day was unique, and it just goes to show how closely knit the soccer community is.”
It’s just another piece of the puzzle that’s fallen into place for Badji in Colorado.
“He made the transition a lot easier for me,” Badji said of Garcia. “It’s nice to know somebody and it’s tough going into an environment where you don’t know somebody.”
Professionally, Badji has also expressed gratitude to the departing Kevin Doyle. The Rapids veteran, who recently retired due to continued issues with concussions, has been a mentor throughout Badji’s three seasons in Burgundy.
“I’m going to miss him a lot,” Badji said of Doyle. “People don’t really see his influence in the locker room, but he’s been someone who’s really great for the locker room.”
Doyle has passed on many lessons, including mental focus, tactical knowledge of the game and professionalism both on and off the pitch.
“On the field, he’s someone who’s willing to play all the positions, whether it’s at the 10, the wings, or up top,” Badji continued. “He’s someone who’s really helped me develop as a player, because you see that from my first year to my third year, I’ve made a huge jump and a lot of that has to do with him.”
Badji has become more comfortable in Colorado as each season had passed. He’s even embraced the Colorado lifestyle, and has become something of an avid fisherman.
“One thing people really don’t know about me is my love for fishing,” he laughed. “I like to throw the line in, sit back and be away from everything from time to time.”
For the time being, Badji is still focused on angling for goals. He and the Rapids are hoping to continue to play spoiler heading into this weekend’s Decision Day presented by AT&T showdown at Seattle (4 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
Badji also hopes to cap the season by completing his goal of double digit goals, and the Rapids hope to continue evolving into a more balanced team heading into next season.
“We’ve always been known as a defensive team; a team that’s very solid and doesn’t give up a lot of goals,” said Badji. “That’s definitely something we can build on for next year, but also, we want to be a more balanced team. We don’t want to rely just on defense or offense. When we have a bit of both, we can be one of the best teams in the league.”