It’s the 2013-14 MLS season, and a new face has burst on the scene. His name is Gyasi Zardes. While the name may sound foreign to some, Zardes is a red-blooded American international, a product of the renowned LA Galaxy academy system, and former starlet for the Cal State Bakersfield soccer team.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena decided to play his new, young forward in the front of the Galaxy set up, paired alongside Irish legend Robbie Keane, in hopes that he could add the extra punch to put LA at the top of MLS once again.
The results were simply staggering. Zardes scored 19 goals across all appearances with the Galaxy in 2013-14, including 16 on just 32 appearances in league play. Additionally, he became the first MLS homegrown to score in the MLS Cup, as he helped the Galaxy secure their fifth championship, the most in league history.
Zardes then turned his attention to the international stage.
Gyasi earned his first call up to the national team in 2015’s January camp, where Jurgen Klinsmann rewarded him for his solid season in MLS. However, one question remained: where would Klinsmann play his new forward? With Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey occupying the striker positions in the middle, Zardes was relegated to the wing, forcing him to learn a new position.
Fast forward to November 2015, and Zardes is still very much a part of the national team picture. He remains one of the only players Klinsmann has introduced to the roster following the 2014 World Cup, and has basically transitioned to being a full-time outside midfielder for both the national team and the Galaxy. Only problem is, he has played that position to varying success.
Zardes only mustered six goals and four assists this year for the Galaxy in MLS play, a far cry from the 16 he scored just a year ago. Additionally, while he has shown flashes of brilliance with the national team, he has hardly emerged as the dynamic offensive player the USMNT so desperately needs in the wake of Landon Donovan’s retirement.
While many fans have chalked Zardes’ struggles up to the fact that he simply isn’t a winger, and should be played alongside Jozy Altidore as a striker, the USMNT’s tie in Trinidad showed that may not be the case. Zardes was provided plenty of service in that game and just could not finish. That’s not exactly a quality you want out of a starting striker.
In addition to his problems finishing, the international game has exposed several shortcomings in Zardes’ game. He’s not particularly good at holding up play. He struggles to track back on defense. He makes snap decisions that often result in turnovers. All issues that point to him not being able to compete at the highest level.
However, his speed, athleticism, and ability to shield the ball from defenders make him a unique talent and a matchup issue for many of the teams the United States plays in CONCACAF. It’s just a matter of how you use him.
It’s safe to say at this point that Gyasi Zardes has shown he has the talent to compete at the international level. However, how much he is used and in what capacity remains very much up for discussion. Is he a striker? Is he a winger? Should he start or come off the bench? These are the questions burning in the heads of nearly every national team fan after watching Zardes’ performances this year. However, the only thing that remains certain is just how uncertain Gyasi Zardes future is, and that’s quite the daunting feeling for the 24-year old forward.