Club: Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)
Since breaking into the USMNT setup just over a year ago, Gyasi Zardes has quickly become a staple in Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup, and while his start to the Copa America Centenario was shaky, he showcased in the following games the ability that makes many in the American camp want him on the field.
Zardes is a product of one of the United States’ biggest hotbeds for soccer talent, Southern California. He arrived on the scene at a young age and played in the LA Galaxy’s academy at both the U-18 and U-20 levels. He remained in the Galaxy’s system while attending Cal-State Bakersfield where, in his sophomore year, Zardes was the key figure in the Roadrunners’ first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament, tallying 18 goals on the season, in the top five in the country. He followed that impressive figure by leading Bakersfield in
Zardes was clearly ready for a bigger stage though, and rather than complete a fourth year at Bakersfield, he elected to sign with the Galaxy after his junior season as a homegrown player, a rule in the MLS that allows players in a club’s academy to bypass the Superdraft.
After a couple months with the reserves, Zardes debuted for the club’s senior squad in April of 2013. While it was clear he still was rough around the edges during his first year with the team, Zardes was good enough to play in 27 MLS fixtures, scoring four times along the way.
The following season was a whole different story, however, as Zardes burst onto the MLS radar in a major way, playing 32 games and tallying 16 goals, sixth-best in the league. The Galaxy finished second in the table, but the best was yet to come as Zardes netted the opening goal of the 2014 MLS Cup en route to a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution that saw LA lift the trophy.
Last year was a mixed bag for Zardes, however, as his form in the MLS cooled to just five goals, but his 2014 performance was good enough to earn him his first USMNT cap on January 28, coming on as a sub in a 3-2 loss to Chile. He soon worked his way further into the team, notching his first goal later in the year in a 4-3 win over the Netherlands.
The soon-to-be 24-year old now has 31 caps, an impressive number given his youth and recent arrival on the stage, and it looks like he will remain a stalwart for the USMNT for some time to come. He got his first taste of international competition at last year’s Gold Cup, starting four games and coming on as a halftime sub in one before sitting during the pointless third-place match. That tournament wasn’t good for Zardes or the USMNT as a whole, but what they have both done this summer has helped a bit.
In the opening match of the Copa America
Despite the loss, however, Klinsmann stuck the same lineup out for the next two group games, and Zardes found a groove. Though he didn’t score, he was a solid component of the squad the bounced back impressively to win Group A.
In the knockout round, Zardes did find the back of the net, tapping in Clint Dempsey's effort for the second goal against Ecuador, which proved to be the winner in the quarterfinals. The ebb and flow persisted, however, as again the USMNT were overmatched by the talent of South America, and Zardes’ tournament ended with a whimper against Argentina. Still, he has done plenty worthy of praise.
In the past few months, there have been rumours connecting Zardes with some European squads, including Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray, but nothing looks like it will come to fruition at the moment. Of the the USMNT players based domestically, however, Zardes, given his youth and talent, is one of, if not the, most likely to merit overseas suitors. Whether a good enough offer comes remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Zardes making appearances in Europe in the near future.