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U.S. Attacker Gyasi Zardes: "I Just Want to Go Forward"

Forward? Winger? Twenty-three-year-old Gyasi Zardes doesn't care where he plays just so long as he can help the U.S. men's national team unlock opposing defenses and get on the scoreboard.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 13, 2015
10:10 AM
WITH THE OFFENSE STUCK IN NEUTRAL FRIDAY NIGHT, U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann pulled Gyasi Zardes aside at halftime and told him to get ready to play.

Zardes came on for a struggling Jozy Altidore at the start of the second half and within two minutes the 23-year-old set up Clint Dempsey for what turned out to be the game-winning goal against Haiti.

The sequence began when left back Greg Garza delivered the ball to Zardes on the flank. The Los Angeles Galaxy attacker chested the ball down and pushed forward before sliding a pinpoint pass to Clint Dempsey in the middle of the penalty area.

“Greg Garza, he reads the game pretty well,” Zardes said. “He looked up, we made eye contact, and I just did a little head nod. He clipped the perfect ball into space. I just chested it and I knew Clint or one of the other forwards was going to crash the box so I just laid it back because I knew I was higher up on the attack and sure enough as the ball went across the box to Clint—what a beautiful finish.”

Zardes made Klinsmann's substitution look brilliant—and yes, the coach appreciated what the Hawthorne, Calif., native brought to the game.

"What we were lacking was width in the first half,” Klinsmann said afterward. “We didn't create anything coming over the wings. Obviously Gyasi has this special talent to take people on and also with his speed, [to add] surprising elements."

The Americans will face Panama tonight (9:30pm ET; Fox Sports 1, UniMas) in a Gold Cup match that is mostly meaningless since the team has already secured first place in Group A. Don't be surprised if the young, healthy, and refreshingly active Zardes makes yet another appearance with the national team.

It's hard to believe that Zardes' national team career only got underway in January. Zardes clearly made a strong impression in that camp as he has now played in all 10 national teams games this year.

“It really helped going to the January camp,” Zardes explained. “All those friendlies I got, it really helped a ton. I feel like I’m growing as a player. I’ve been starting the majority of the games and it’s an honor. I just like to stay humble and keep working.”

Klinsmann’s roster for the 2015 Gold Cup closely resembles his 2014 World Cup team, with 17 players from Brazil returning for the continental championship. Zardes, however, is a noteworthy exception and he hasn't shown the least bit of fear or intimidation in his first official international competition.

“With Gyasi, it is a process we are watching,” Klinsmann said. “He has a lot of talent and a lot of potential. We want to tell him every day it's one step at a time. He has an amazing positive attitude to the game, to his work. He's not shy of doing extra whenever you ask him something. He has a curious personality.

"He always wants to learn. It's a real joy to work with him.”

With Altidore and Alejandro Bedoya struggling to find fitness after recent injuries, Zardes' role in the Gold Cup could continue deep into the knockout stages. If called upon, Zardes believes he will be ready.

“When I first came in with the national team, I was kind of timid,” Zardes said. “With this group I feel like the more games, the more training sessions I have with the coaches and this team, I’m starting to become more comfortable, like my own character is starting to prevail and I just really love being with this group of guys because they’re top players.”

It doesn't hurt that Zardes is accustomed to playing alongside top talent. Even before David Beckham helped put Major League Soccer on the map the L.A. Galaxy have placed a premium on securing high-quality players. And coach Bruce Arena always seems to find a way to integrate promising young players into the mix.

Zardes, who has 24 goals in 58 appearances over the last season-and-a-half in Southern California, acknowledges that he is in an ideal situation with the Galaxy.

“I learned so much from Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan," Zardes said. "I’d always pick their brains and they give me helpful tips. That’s what really helped me feel at home with these guys with the national team as well. It’s just phenomenal being in the same atmosphere with all these top talents.”

Zardes has demonstrated plenty of positional flexibility with the national team. He plays forward with Los Angeles but has featured on the wing under Klinsmann. (The German has said that Zardes remains an option at forward.)

Zardes just wants to play and be part of the attack.

“I love playing up top,” Zardes said. “To be able to be up top at the end, that’s a bonus. But playing out wide, I love that as well—just trying to be an attacking threat. That’s what I’m really trying to accomplish.”

“I feel like when I play out wide, I want to be a more attacking threat,” he added. “I feel like all the defensive things I’m doing well. I just want to attack every chance I get the ball.

"I just want to go forward. I don’t want to go back or sideways—I want to go forward.”

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

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