It’s not that Zardes isn’t a good player. The Columbus Crew SC man is one of the most reliable goalscorers in MLS, having netted 32 goals in 61 appearances for Columbus since arriving at the club from the LA Galaxy prior to the start of the 2018 season. And if a very good MLS striker was all he was, Zardes wouldn’t be such a polarizing figure.
When it comes to the USMNT, though, the question with Zardes is: Can he be a carry-the-load, international-caliber striker that coach Gregg Berhalter can rely on when the stage gets bigger and the lights are brightest?
After Zardes scored just six times in his first 42 senior caps (many of which came on the wing) from 2015-2018 – not exactly an eye-popping number – many questioned why Berhalter stayed the course with a player who seemed like he may have already achieved his highest upside. The emergence of a talented young alternative in 19-year-old Josh Sargent of Werder Bremen has only increased the chatter as to whether it's Sargent's turn to take the forward reins.
The 2019 season has been a bit of a different story, though: Coming off his two-goal performance in the USMNT’s 4-1 romp over Canada in Concacaf Nations League play – one of which was a legitimate golazo – Zardes now leads US players with six international goals in 14 appearances for the US this year, which are the type of numbers fans are expecting from a US starting forward. That total puts him in front of Christian Pulisic (5), Weston McKennie (5), Paul Arriola (3) and Jordan Morris (3).
Since his 2015 debut, Zardes’s 12 goals are now topped only by Jozy Altidore’s 13 over that same timeframe.
None of this is to say that a two-goal game against Canada means that Zardes is the long-term answer. But, at the very least, the 28-year-old has seemingly found some consistency in 2019 that had previously eluded him.
To truly silence the critics, Zardes will be expected to not only keep it up, but do so against more elite competition that the USMNT will be contending with as they approach World Cup qualifying. If he can do it, he'll be making a strong case to keep the job and he'll probably win over fans in the process.