When FC Dallas traded homegrown midfielder Kellyn Acosta to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for Dominique Badji in July 2018, the assumption around fanbase and media was that Badji was being brought in to play as a striker, the position where he had played almost exclusively in his time with the Rapids.
However, almost immediately, there was talk from technical director Fernando Clavijo and manager Oscar Pareja that Badji would also be used on the wing. That didn’t end up being the case, in the 2018 season at least, but with the introduction of Luchi Gonzalez and “Luchi-ball”, Badji has ended up playing a significant number of minutes on the wing and has, arguably, been better there.
Dominique Badji’s Season So Far
Badji started the 2019 season as the starting number 9 and started well, registering an assist in the opener against the New England Revolution and then starting and going the full 90 minutes in the following games against the Galaxy and Columbus Crew. The emergence of Jesus Ferreira shuffled Badji to the wing for the following game against his former club. Badji then picked up an injury in training that ruled him out for about a month, eventually making his return as a second-half sub against San Jose on April 27th and playing as a winger. Badji followed that up with a substitute appearance away to Houston, playing as a striker and scoring a goal. That earned him a start in the following game against the New York Red Bulls where he picked up an injury that forced him off in the first half. He returned the following week against LAFC, registering an assist from the wing and subsequently played there throughout the month of June, notably netting a brace against Toronto.
With Ferreira’s performances at striker waning as the season moved through summer and Luchi Gonzalez moving him back into midfield, Badji returned to the number 9 role throughout the month of July, scoring goals as a second-half sub against DC and as a starter against Sporting KC. Badji continued to play as a number 9 well into the month of August, until FC Dallas were down 3-0 going into the second half against the Montreal Impact. Luchi Gonzalez brought Zdenek Ondrasek on and shifted Badji back to the left wing. Dallas came back to draw 3-3 and in the subsequent games against Houston and Cincinnati, that combination of Ondrasek and Badji in those positions remained the same, with Badji recording an assist (to Ondrasek) against Houston.
As long as Ondrasek maintains his performance levels at striker, Badji doesn’t seem likely to return to that position in the near future, but what is Badji’s best position for FC Dallas?
Dominique Badji the Striker
Badji has played 13 games in which, whether starting or subbed on, he has nominally been the striker, the central forward leading the line. In those 13 games, he has played a total of 768 minutes, recording 3 goals, one each against Houston, DC United and Sporting Kansas City and one assist against the New England Revolution. Badji has only played the full 90 minutes as a striker four times and has actually been more successful scoring goals as substitute, only his goal against Sporting Kansas City came in a start.
From the eye test, Badji has largely struggled as a striker throughout the season, failing to be in the right positions in the box to get on the end of crosses and mostly failing to impose himself on games in any significant fashion. He isn’t great at winning aerial duels against big center backs and his biggest strength, running in behind the opposing backline, hasn’t been able to be exploited in significant fashion in Dallas’ new possession based system.
The aforementioned Sporting Kansas City game, the only game that Badji has started as a striker and netted a goal, has been Badji’s best performance at the position to this point in the season. Badji’s goal came from something he struggled to do throughout the season as a striker, get himself into a great position and just get to the ball:
This was a huge moment in a game that may end up being one of the most significant results of the season if FC Dallas qualifies for the playoffs ahead of a recently resurgent SKC and represents something that FC Dallas has struggled to do throughout the season: capitalize on mistakes. Badji’s touch map from the game isn’t incredibly impressive (circles are shots, squares are passes, triangles are defensive actions):
Badji doesn’t get a significant number of touches, but this game represents the situation in which Badji is most effective as a striker: playing against a team that dominates possession. Badji’s goal came off of turnover from SKC trying to build out of the back, Barrios pounces on the loose ball and plays a square ball to Badji, who just fights against the center back to get there first. This game was one of the few throughout the season that Dallas was significantly out-possessed with Dallas only having the ball 44% of the time. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that this was also the game in which Badji was most effective playing as the number 9.
Dominique Badji the Winger
Badji has actually played one less game as a winger than as a striker, though he has played more minutes as a winger in total. In the 12 games Badji has started or subbed on as a winger, he has scored three times, assisted twice and played a total of 900 minutes. He netted a brace against Toronto and scored another against Vancouver while recording assists against LAFC and Houston.
Badji looks better on the eye test playing as a winger. He plays a relatively simple game on the wing compared to the work expected of him and his movement in and around the box. On the wing, he largely stays on the left side, not doing the kind of consistent switching of sides with Michael Barrios that some of the other options at left-wing, such as Santiago Mosquera, typically do. For someone who has spent as much time in his career playing as a forward, Badji does a good job of getting to the byline and getting crosses into the box. He occasionally cuts back into the inside on his right foot to try to get a shot off, but largely stays wide.
Playing on the wing allows Badji to match up with full-backs instead of center backs, which allows him to make a greater impact with his physicality on the typically smaller full backs and he has often found it easier to get in behind defenses coming from the wing as opposed to running in between center backs who are often playing deeper and anticipating those kinds of runs. To be clear, these kinds of positions are fluid, even when playing nominally on the wing, Badji does drift inside and occasionally swap with the high striker in certain situations, but Badji seems to, ironically, be more comfortable playing out of what most would call his “natural” position.
Two performances from the wing stick out: the brace against Toronto near the end of June and a very recent performance in the 5-1 demolition of the Houston Dynamo. Although he didn’t put a goal in the back of the net, he was particularly effective on the wing against Houston, registering an assist and generally putting himself about up and down the wing well:
Badji’s chart is far more active playing as a winger, with plenty of forward passes and attempted forward passes and lots of touches all up and down the left-wing, with some touches coming further inside as well and the occasional wing switch. Badji still isn’t any kind of dominant factor coming from the wing and a lot of the issues that come up playing as a striker also come up playing on the wing. However, playing on the wing allows some of Badji’s best qualities to shine and the attacking trio of Badji, Barrios and Zdenek Ondrasek have helped Dallas score 8 goals in the previous 3 games against Montreal, Houston, and Cincinnati.
Striker or winger?
Based on the evidence from this season, Badji’s best position seems to be on the wing, at least playing under Luchi Gonzalez with FC Dallas. In a theoretical world where Oscar Pareja is still FC Dallas manager and the team plays a bit more pragmatically with less of a focus on maintaining possession, perhaps Badji would be more effective as a striker playing on the opposition backline, but as it stands, under Luchi’s possession-based system, Badji is most effective playing out wide on the wing, allowing him to most effectively utilize his strengths while hiding some of the weaker aspects of his game. It remains to be seen if Badji will maintain his spot on the wing with the return of Santiago Mosquera from injury imminent, but it seems unlikely that he will see a significant amount of time as the number 9 for the remainder of the season.
What do you think Dominique Badji’s best position is for FC Dallas? Do you feel he is more effective playing centrally as a number 9 or out wide as a winger? Should Badji retain his spot on the wing when Santiago Mosquera returns from injury? Sound off in the comments below!
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