81814_isi_zardesgyasi_mlsmj060814101 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com

The Future Looks Bright for Galaxy Striker Gyasi Zardes

Currently ranked No. 95 in the ASN 100 list of the top American soccer players, Los Angeles Galaxy striker Gyasi Zardes has scored nine goals in his last 10 games, and will certainly rocket up the list.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 18, 2014
3:04 PM
ROBBIE KEANE IS A PROLIFIC attacker, and the Los Angeles Galaxy need him. Landon Donovan is a tremendous offensive talent, and next season Bruce Arena's team will miss him.

But 22-year-old Gyasi Zardes is the difference-maker on the Southern California team right now, having scored a staggering nine goals in his last 10 matches.

“I’m starting to see the game differently up top,” Zardes told American Soccer Now. “Playing up top with Robbie Keane is fantastic. I’m learning a lot from him and I am just working hard in training. I’m staying out there and putting in the extra work on my finishing.

"The game is really slowing down for me this year as opposed to my rookie year.”

“I feel like I can just keep growing. I learned so much after my rookie year. This year I am still learning. If I keep putting in the work, the results will keep coming like they have been.”

What has made Zardes so effective this season has been his improving chemistry with Keane and Donovan—a pair that have scored a combined 119 goals for their respective national teams.

"He’s becoming a real player,” Landon Donovan said recently. “I’ll say it again, if teams want to focus on other players on our team, then he’s going to punish them. And so eventually teams have to pick their poison, but we’re just going to let him keep playing and keep playing well and just do his thing."

When Donovan told his teammates that he was going to retire, it came as a surprise to most. But the more Zardes thought about it, the more he understood Donovan's mindset. The 32-year-old icon has played professional soccer for nearly half of his life, and Zardes recognizes the physical and mental toll that must have taken. He says he "felt happy” for Donovan when he heard the news.

Without Donovan, next year's Galaxy squad could look radically different, and Zardes realizes that everyone will have big shoes to fill.

“Landon Donovan is an inspiration to me,” Zardes said. “I grew up watching him play at the Home Depot Center. Seeing his career grow has meant a lot to me because I am trying to follow in his footsteps. His presence on the field is wonderful because I watch the runs he makes and whenever we switch positions, I try to make the same runs.”

Donovan has taught Zardes many lessons over the past two seasons, and the veteran hasn't always been subtle about mentoring the second-year player.

“He doesn’t pull me aside,” Zardes said with a laugh. “He’ll say it in front of everybody. He's open about it and I love it because he tells me to put the game away this way or finish it that way. He always gives me pointers and I am very thankful that he never holds back.

"He is always honest with me.”

Many of Donovan's greatest achievements have come while wearing a United States national team jersey—at the World Cup, the Confederations Cup, and the Olympics. Zardes has not yet received his first callup but he follows the team closely and watches all of the games.

As a new World Cup cycle begins, Jurgen Klinsmann will no doubt be on the lookout for the next generation of American stars. Zardes will be ready if and when he receives the call.

“I’m never sad that I don’t get called in,” Zardes explained. “I’m always happy for the others that get called in. They earned it and they worked hard as well.”

“I try not to get my hopes up,” he added. “I just try to keep working hard and stay humble because I know if I put the work in with my club, then I’ll have the opportunity to at least go to a camp or be brought into the pool.”

KEITH COSTIGAN a Fox Soccer TV host and a former member of the coaching staff at Cal State Bakersfield, recruited Zardes and got to know the player very well during that time. Costigan recalls Zardes being a humble kid from a tight-knit family who worked at Jamba Juice during college to make money.

He also remembers the goals—lots of them. During his three seasons at Bakersfield, Zardes scored 38 goals in total, including 33 in 37 games in his last two seasons.

“In 2009, [the Galaxy] didn’t sign him,” Costigan explained. “I had a conversation with Gyasi and I told him that I believed that if he went to college for a year or two, he’d be the No. 1 (college) player in the country when he left. And I believe that is the case when he did leave.”

“The funny thing is that we still haven’t seen some of the things that Gyasi really likes to do,” Costigan continued. “Gyasi is playing on the line and really opening up the space for Robbie [Keane] to attack or to exploit in between the lines. If you watch any of Gyasi’s college games, he likes to come off the front line and turn and go at defenders.”

Zardes is enjoying life in Los Angeles these days. Married with a young child, Zardes is close with several of his Galaxy teammates—many of whom live very close to him and also have young families.

The quiet, family-oriented life that Zardes lives off the field reflects the humble approach he takes on the field. While in the midst of a torrid scoring streak on a team full of stars, Zardes is quick to downplay the hype and the high expectations that follow.

“I take it game by game and I forget about the past. In this upcoming game, I forget about all the goals I’ve scored and I don’t put that pressure on myself that I have to score this game. I forget about everything and just play.”

As for where his career is headed, Zardes is optimistic but as Costigan put it, the potential is there for him to be one of the best players in the league.

“In terms of his ceiling, the fact that he’s changed his game and is still scoring goals is proof that this kid can go really far in the game,” Costigan said. “He has to continue to work hard. When he came into college, he couldn’t head a ball. Now it’s one of his biggest assets. So he has a willingness to learn and a willingness to compete against top players.

"He’s going to continue to get better.”

"He's well grounded. He's a super nice kid with a hunger to be at the top level. You're going to see Gyasi grow. Once he has that confidence, he's going to be a top, top player in this league."

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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