CARSON, Calif. -- Gyasi Zardes was expected to find stardom in MLS sooner or later. Most just figured it would come as a forward, where the LA Galaxy rookie has built an impressive résumé -- and demonstrated immense potential in 10 starts this season.
Perhaps not. He's started LA's last three games on the left flank, after getting a taste during the International Champions Cup friendlies earlier this month, and his youthful energy, attacking instincts and willingness to toil has made an imprint as the Galaxy have strung together three wins for the first time all year.
Zardes's skill set -- especially his speed and athleticism -- is tailor-made for wing duty, and he's proven nearly as dangerous a scoring threat from the wing as he has up top. It seems only a matter of time before his ability to get into dangerous spaces starts translating, for real, into goals.
“He gets better every game,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who moved Zardes to the flank so Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan could team together up front. “I think he's been good in the position -- he's got a lot to learn, but there's so many good signs there that demonstrate that he can potentially be outstanding in that position.”
Zardes, who turns 22 next week, was a coveted striker following a brief All-American career at Cal State Bakersfield, and he signed a Home Grown Player deal with LA just before January's SuperDraft -- then insisted he would have been the No. 1 pick had he been available for selection.
That kind of brash confidence can be helpful for a goalscorer, but an underlying humility and blue-collar work ethic -- along with the physical tools -- has convinced those around him that he could be something special in the years ahead.
“He never quits,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “He works, he works, he works. Even if he fouls up, he's still going to help you try to win it back and improve on the last touch. That's a nice energy that he brings.”
A move to the flank, which coincided with Robbie Rogers's plateauing form and hamstring injuries, best emphasizes Zardes' speed and ability to beat defenders one-on-one.
“I'm actually loving it at the moment,” Zardes said. “I'm adapting and learning as much I can, playing out wide, and I'm learning to utilize my speed going forward. [The biggest adjustment is the] defensive work, just being smart. Todd [Dunivant, LA's left back] is really helping me a lot ... always communicating, which is good, because he's my eyes behind me.”
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Zardes says he views tape of every performance, and he's also taking notes while “watching other wing midfielders who are in the English Premier League or Spanish league, such as [Tottenham's] Gareth Bale, or Ashley Young or Nani [both from Manchester United].”
“He's keeps learning,” Dunivant said. “Obviously, the stuff on the ball is what gets seen, but it's the stuff -- the defensive side, positioning -- that people probably don't see so much. Those aren't easy things to learn; it's just habits of tracking runners, being in right spots, thinking defensively and not always offensively, and he's gotten a lot better at it.
“So we keep working on that, and if he continues to shore that up, he's going to be very dangerous there.”