CARSON, Calif. – Gyasi Zardes is making a real impact for the LA Galaxy these days, with six goals in his last eight first-team starts, including the lone tally in the weekend's victory over Real Salt Lake.
The second-year attacker, playing up front again after finishing last season and starting this year with assignments on the flanks, is starting to give LA a consistent scoring threat beyond Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, and that makes the Galaxy a far more formidable foe.
Zardes, who has started LA's last six games at forward, scored a scorcher of a goal in the 20th minute on Saturday night, running into traffic in the semicircle about the box to collect Marcelo Sarvas' dummied feed, fend off Joao Plata's challenge and crack the ball past a morass of defender, off the left post and into the netting inside the right post.
He might have had another two minutes later, when Keane nearly connected with him at the right post.
"He's becoming a real player," said Donovan, who has been playing atop the Galaxy's midfield triangle. "All the exciting stuff [he can do] is fun and fun to watch, but he's effective now.
"Obviously, teams put a lot of emphasis on Robbie and myself, and when he's getting chances, he's making them pay, so at some point teams are going to have to start paying attention to him. And if they don't, then he will keep scoring."
Keane has nine goals in all this year, but his seven in MLS play arrived in the first 10 matches. Donovan, who has just three goals, didn't score until returning from the US national team camp that preceded the World Cup. The Galaxy (6-3-6) have scored just 20 MLS goals, and their 1.33 per-game average is 14th in the league. (They are No. 1 defensively, allowing just 0.87 per match.)
Offense has been an issue, and Zardes' rise can help solve it.
"He's still a young player. He's got a long way to go ...," head coach Bruce Arena said in his postgame news conference. "He's progressing the way we want to see him progress. He's making steady progress. He's not hitting as many peaks and valleys, so those are all good signs."
The tools are unquestioned. Zardes, 22, has speed, skill, size, strength, savvy – and he's rather humble for one so gifted. He credits every goal to his teammates, regardless of how much work was required of him, and repeatedly says that he needs to keep working, and working harder.
He's brimming with confidence.
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"Every goal is definitely a confidence booster, but I try to stay humble ...," said Zardes, who has four MLS goals this year (plus four assists) after netting four as a rookie. "There are times in the past when I wasn't finishing my opportunities. It's great just to get some goals under my belt."
Donovan is impressed with how quickly Zardes is maturing.
"With young players, a lot of times you get a lot of excitement, a lot of talent, but you don't get the end product all the time," he said. "And so part of becoming a mature player and a real professional is being effective. And he's been effective.
"You don't look at him and say, 'Oh, it was the most exciting player on the field tonight,' or 'He had all these great chances,' but he was effective, he ran hard, he defended well, he stretched [RSL], put them under pressure, and when he got a chance to score, he scored. And that's all you can ask for."