Gyasi Zardes grew up attending LA Galaxy games and rooting for the club's biggest stars. He still has a Galaxy poster, featuring David Beckham, hanging over his bed in his parents' home.
Now he's part of the Galaxy family, a real delight for the 21-year-old All-America striker out of Cal State Bakersfield.
“I have to say that the Galaxy, I mean, it's the No. 1 club in my heart, as far as America,” Zardes, who this week signed a Homegrown contract with LA, said Thursday morning in a conference call with local media. “I'm thrilled to be part of the Galaxy. Now a new chapter in my life begins, and it's definitely going to be hard work.
“Just playing alongside Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan is going to be a thrill, and the legacy the Galaxy has, especially coming off two-time, back-to-back championships – it's going to be great to finally put in the work and try to bring back a third championship this year.”
WATCH: Zardes highlight reel
Zardes, who scored 33 goals in 37 games as a sophomore and junior at CSU Bakersfield, played two seasons with the Galaxy's U-18 Development Academy team and two seasons for LA's U-20 side in the USL Super 20 league, making him eligible for Homegrown status. He turned down an offer from LA last February – to further mature and get closer to a degree in criminal justice – but said, “After this season, I felt I was ready to go.”
“I definitely feel like I'm ready for the MLS, and I've been waiting for this moment a long time,” said Zardes, whose signing was announced Thursday morning. “I have the heads up now, so I'm already working physically and technically, and I'm definitely going to be ready by the first MLS game [on March 3]. Now it's just up to me to prove myself.”
Zardes, who grew up just a few miles away from the Home Depot Center in Hawthorne, and starred at Leuzinger High School – also Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara's alma mater – has done a pretty good job providing proof so far.
The speedy, technically gifted attacker is widely considered the top college player entering MLS next season, is a veteran of training stints with Freiburg and Nürnberg in Germany and with Liverpool's Academy in England, and won praise from then-West Bromwich Albion (and now England national team) manager Roy Hodgson after a stirring performance against the English club in a friendly last summer for the Ventura County Fusion. He chose to sign with LA over reported offers from Freiburg and Nuremberg.
He's the fourth Homegrown player on the Galaxy roster, joining third-year forward Jack McBean, second-year forward Jose Villarreal (also a Leuzinger alum) and defender Oscar Sorto, who signed earlier this month.
Zardes believes he has the tools to succeed and credited CSU Bakersfield head coach Simon Tobin and assistant coach Keith Costigan with his development into a “cutthroat striker [who puts] the ball in the back of the net.”
“I think my speed with the ball and without the ball is definitely a powerful factor, and I also think my defensive work rate will be a key factor ...,” he said. “I think I can work on everything, whether it's finishing or becoming faster or [more of an] aerial threat, but I also feel I have a couple of attributes that will help me adapt to MLS' fast-paced game.”