FRESNO, Calif. – Who will be the LA Galaxy's breakout performer in 2014? Don't look past Gyasi Zardes, whose work in each of the club's ticketed preseason friendlies has amplified the considerable buzz around him.
The second-year attacker, who as a rookie provided glimpses of why so many think he's special, netted his second jaw-dropping goal in as many weeks to make the difference in the Galaxy's 2-1 triumph Saturday night over San Jose in the Central California Cup exhibition.
Zardes took a pass near midfield from Landon Donovan in the 54th minute, sprinted toward the Earthquakes box with five defenders in tow, cut into space toward the right and unleashed a bullet past Jon Busch and inside the right post.
It was reminiscent of his perfectly placed laser in LA's win a week earlier over Armenian champions FC Shirak, only more spectacular.
“A fabulous goal,” raved head coach Bruce Arena after the victory at a sold-out Chukchansi Park.
That Zardes would not have finished so deftly last year, something Arena pointed out after the Shirak strike, seemed obvious. He demonstrated a knack for getting into dangerous positions as a rookie but scored just four goals, a slim number given his opportunities.
“Experience and playing at this level takes a little bit of time,” Arena noted. “He gained a lot of experience in 2013, played a lot of minutes, grew from those minutes and has continued to make progress this year.”
Zardes says finishing drills, especially those in “game-setting situations,” and enhanced focus is helping him.
“I'm absorbing every single moment,” he said. “Every time I get the ball, I'm just focused on my direction. If I'm not facing the goal, then look for my teammates that are right in front of me, as opposed to turning and trying to do too much. I'm trying to be more simple.”
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It's been effective. He said he ran at his defender on the goal against San Jose and hadn't realized there were four others running with them.
“The one motto I just keep in my head: Just focus on now,” Zardes said. “And just try to improve each and every single day. I'm trying to beat myself. If I play good this game, the next game I'm trying to be better than I was.”
Donovan, who during preseason has played primarily on the left side of midfield – Zardes' spot down the stretch last season – says Zardes “looks a lot more comfortable” than in 2013.
“He acts a lot more comfortable when he walks around. You can tell he knows he belongs now, and he wants to continue making an impact,” Donovan said. “Last year was a good start for him. We saw glimpses of his potential, but now it's time he come into his own and start playing like the player he can be.
"He's looked really good in the preseason, and we expect a big year from him.”