CARSON, Calif. – Gyasi Zardes showed off his tremendous promise during his rookie campaign with the LA Galaxy, and he knows there will be heady expectations for him in 2014.
The big, strong, exceptionally speedy attacker, a forward who spent the final three months of the season starting primarily on the left side of midfield, isn't afraid of the responsibility and understands there's much room for growth.
“My thoughts are just to improve and take this year in consideration, really learn from this year as a rookie and just work extremely hard during the offseason,” Zardes told reporters as Galaxy camp wrapped up last week. “And once we come back [in January], work extremely hard as soon as the season starts because I won't have a surgery, I won't have a slow start. I'll have a year under my belt, so I should be more mature.”
Zardes didn't make his initial first-team appearance until the end of April after he was sidelined by a broken fifth metatarsal during preseason, but his prodigious tools quickly won him playing time up front with Robbie Keane and then, when head coach Bruce Arena moved Landon Donovan to forward in early August, on the flank, where his speed and one-on-one skills brought a missing dynamism to the Galaxy attack. He went on to finish fourth in AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year award voting.
What went missing were the goals. Zardes scored only four in 27 league games, 23 of them starts, while expectations probably should have put him close to or into double figures.
“I think he had a good year, yet he fell short in terms of finishing plays off,” Arena said. “Gyasi could have had a number of goals this year and fell a little bit short there, so we've got to hope this year was a good experience for him and he grows into a more responsible role next year in finishing off plays.”
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Zardes said the final product must be better, that “goals are very important,” but he's looking for greater advancement as a complete player.
“It's developing as a whole character: on the field, off the field, work-rate, repetition, the speed of play, mental aspect of the game,” he said. “You can name off so many things to improve on.”
Zardes, who grew up just a few miles from StubHub Center, signed a Homegrown Player contract last December, but it's likely he will lose that designation for next season after playing 2,170 minutes – plus another 210 in the playoffs. That means his substantial salary would count against the Galaxy's cap, so his output will be more vital.
“There were a lot of expectations and more pressure than maybe in a perfect world we would have liked to put on him,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “He played in 27 regular-season games and [three CONCACAF] Champions League games, so over 30 games at this level. You hope it was a good investment for him going into next year.”