CARSON, Calif. – Gyasi Zardes hasn't had much chance to show his growth up front, in his natural position, since the LA Galaxy moved him wide during their stretch run last season, so when the opportunity to play at forward arrived Saturday night, he made sure he didn't disappoint.
The second-year forward came on at halftime and punctuated a fine performance with a superb winning goal as LA rallied for a 2-1 victory over Armenian champions Shirak FC at StubHub Center.
Baggio Husidic's shot from above the box in the 75th minute caromed off a defender and to Zardes, at the top of the box, and he carefully slotted the ball inside the right post as LA improved to 2-0-1 in preseason matches.
“Very good finish by Gyasi,” head coach Bruce Arena offered afterward. “Obviously, something I don't think he would have finished that play last year.”
Zardes grinned when he heard that.
“Yeah, definitely. I agree with him,” he said. “Last year I wanted to blast everything. I felt like I was more composed. Once I collected the ball, then I just looked up and placed my shot.”
Zardes' combination of speed, strength and skill has convinced many he could be a star in MLS -- and at higher levels, too -- but difficulties in finishing chances after finding his way into great spots last year led to his move to the left side of midfield, with Landon Donovan joining Robbie Keane up front, when Arena juggled his lineup last August.
Zardes hasn't trained much at forward since, but Arena promised he would see time in both positions going forward.
“I've been playing a lot of wing, but it feels good to get back up top ...,” Zardes said. “[Scoring the goal] feels wonderful. You work hard at training, and to put one in the back of the net during the game, it feels great.”
Zardes, who celebrated the goal with a rocking-the-baby move to fête a son that is due in May, scored 38 goals in three years at Cal State Bakersfield -- 33 in 37 games over the final two seasons -- and netted four in 27 games with the Galaxy last year.
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He might have hit double digits as a rookie with the kind of composure he showed Saturday. He credited a drill that associate head coach Dave Sarachan runs during training.
“The ball comes to the top of the D, you control it, and you place it,” Zardes explained. “I felt that repetition helped me out with that goal.”