The 30-year-old US international had grown into a local favorite over the past four-plus seasons, highlighted by winning an MLS Cup trophy in 2020. Naturally, recording 54 goals and six assists across 110 regular-season games was the driving force there.
But head coach Caleb Porter also saw a decline, noting Zardes was “not on the up" nor “falling off the cliff like some players do.” And when the Rapids offered $300,000 in General Allocation Money for the Designated Player who was in the last year of his contract, the deal made sense for all parties involved.
“It's a hard decision and move to make because we love Gyasi, the players love him,” Porter said. “But also we have to do what's right for the club and it's obvious in the first eight games that we need a top goalscorer. And it's obvious he needs to be playing to make the World Cup.
“We shook hands, we hugged. He'll be a legend here. Hopefully we get the chance to honor him at some point, similar to what we did with Pipa [Higuain]. But we have to keep [putting] emotions aside and we have to keep making the right decisions for the club because there are many times you make emotional decisions and … you lose too many games and ultimately you don't evolve as a club.
“So I think one was just, even though it hurt short-term for him, us, everyone, the fans – we don't take that lightly – it is going to help our club get better. And I hope the supporters understand that once the dust settles.”
Open DP spot
The deal also includes Columbus receiving an additional $1.1 million in GAM if Zardes reaches multiple performance metrics and re-signs with Colorado for three years following the 2022 season. Perhaps most importantly, it opens a DP spot for the Crew that they plan on filling this summer.
The last time Columbus had an open DP slot, they acquired Best XI-caliber midfielder Lucas Zelarayan from Liga MX side Tigres UANL. Come the Secondary Transfer Window (runs from July 7 to Aug. 4), they’ll be searching for a similar impact from the No. 9 spot, a role Zardes spearheaded since arriving in 2018 from a trade with the LA Galaxy.
“When you look at the best teams in the league, they have a goalscorer that's not one every game, but one every two games,” Porter said. “That's why those teams are consistently winning versus not consistently winning. … We have players we've scouted, we have options and it's just a matter of pulling the trigger and obviously it's tight for this next window that closes in a week. Summer window, you can expect that we're going to have a very good attacking piece joining our club.”
Porter still believes Zardes is a strong player, and perhaps he’ll rediscover his goalscoring touch in Colorado. The Rapids made the 2022 Concacaf Champions League after winning last year’s Western Conference regular-season title.
“I just started seeing him kind of miss chances that maybe he would normally make,” Porter said. “I do think he still has his legs and he runs hard and works hard. That's going to help him in Colorado and, listen, he's going to keep scoring goals. It's not like he's not going to go there and score goals. But we need a 15-to-20 goalscorer minimum. There's not a good team in the league that doesn't get that consistently and we need that.”
"We knew it was coming"
In the meantime, the Crew will turn to Miguel Berry to keep leading the line. The 24-year-old won the starting job late last year and continued to push Zardes to the bench this spring. Berry's also a salary cap-friendly option who arrived via the SuperDraft, which clubs especially covet.
“When you look at your roster and how you can maximize your cap, we still feel Miguel is a very good piece,” Porter said. “But obviously the opportunity arose with the offer from Colorado and with obviously playing time that Gyasi was given and where we felt Miguel was at, we felt he was equal or slightly with some development could be even better. Whereas we felt Gyasi was kind of on the decline of his career. Still a good player, but it opens up a DP spot for us. Is it perfect timing? It could have been two months prior, it could have been two months later. But you got to strike when that iron's hot.”
All told, Porter portrayed the deal as a matter of when, not if. It wasn’t an ideal ending to Zardes’ time in Columbus, but a no-trade clause was waived and everyone's 2022 campaign charges on.
“In this case, it was good for the club and good for the player,” Porter said. “It was a mutual, really – many times it's not a mutual [decision]. But this was a conversation that was had ahead of time and Gyasi signed off on this and agreed to this. It was important that we had that discussion with him because of the type of player that he is and what he did for our club and how much respect that we have for him and his family. But I think it was inevitable. He knew it was coming, we knew it was coming.”