This week’s 10 MLS Thoughts looks at a Golden Boot winner, examines a new head coaching pathway, and does a whole bunch of other things, too.
1. You should probably pay Denis Bouanga
Quick, where did LAFC star Denis Bouanga fall on the list of top-earners across MLS last year?
Third? Nope. Fifth? Nope. 10th? Nope. Bouanga, who won the Golden Boot last year and led LAFC to an MLS Cup appearance, had just the 23rd highest guaranteed compensation in the league last year, according to the MLS Players Association.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Bouanga is dropping quotes like the one down below to the French media. The man wants to get paid.
LAFC can — and should — meet that desire. Because he’s already a Designated Player, any bump in salary that goes Bouanga’s way won’t impact the club’s actual salary cap. Chief soccer officer John Thorrington already has plenty of work to do this offseason when it comes to replacing free agents and adding potentially two new DPs. There’s no reason to add “replace a 20-goal scorer” to the to-do list.
2. The Colorado Rapids are making moves!
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the Colorado Rapids down as the team most likely to do interesting things early in the offseason. And yet, here we are.
After landing the youngest free agent in MLS history in the form of Omir Fernandez (24 is an infant by MLS free agency standards), the Rapids signed two fringe USMNT players: Zack Steffen and Djordje Mihailovic. Both of those guys will be starters for Chris Armas in 2024, with Mihailovic as the real get.
During the 2022 MLS season, his last in MLS before testing the waters in Europe, Mihailovic finished in the 95th percentile in non-penalty xG plus expected assisted goals among his positional peers. Read: he was elite at finding chances for himself and creating them for others. Things didn’t work out in the Netherlands, but the 25-year-old has proven that he can be one of the best attacking midfielders in MLS in the right system.
Looking at Steffen, the former U.S. No. 1’s underlying numbers have never painted him in an especially positive light. Still, he could represent a slight upgrade over Colorado’s 2023 goalkeeping group that allowed more goals over expected than all but four teams in the league.
I’m not high on Steffen, but the Rapids deserve credit for making moves that obviously improve their squad after finishing at the bottom of the West last year.