Gyasi Zardes is finally rounding into the kind of form expected of him following a tremendous preseason with the LA Galaxy, and it paid off handsomely Wednesday night when his heady play sent them to the US Open Cup's round of 16.
The second-year attacker scored on a pair of headers two minutes apart as LA rallied from a first-half deficit for a 2-1 victory over first-year USL PRO club Arizona United in a fourth-round clash at the Peoria Sports Complex in suburban Phoenix.
Zardes found space between Tyler Ruthven and London Woodberry to nod home a delicious chip from Robbie Rogers for a 51st-minute equalizer, then found open space just beyond the left post to head in Stefan Ishizaki's cross from the right flank two minutes later.
"Two good goals, good service we'd been lacking for awhile," Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, whose team halted a three-game Open Cup losing streak dating to 2011, told reporters in Arizona. "So it's good to see."
The Galaxy also are pleased to see Zardes hitting stride after minor injuries slowed his progress following a dynamite preseason in which he scored two jaw-dropping goals with shots that, in his rookie season, probably would have missed the target by a good stretch.
He was playing up top and on the left against Arizona United, and as the game matured, opposing defenders found him impossible to bottle up and difficult to deny.
He might have scored a couple more – he booted one ball just past a post and missed narrowly with a header in the first half – but was on target after the break.
"In the first half, I had a couple of opportunities. I didn't put them away, but the main goal for the second half was just putting them on frame, on target," Zardes said. "I thank my teammates, because my teammates are the ones that got the ball in the box, and all I had to do was put the ball on target both times."
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Zardes' work, at least the finish, was pretty simple. Rogers' feed was perfectly placed, and Ishizaki – the Galaxy's primary attacking threat – did outstanding work on the right flank to whip the ball to the back post.
"We just got our service a little bit better to help create two goals," Arena said. "Our guys had a good, healthy attitude [in the second half] and came out in an aggressive fashion."
The goals gave LA what they deserved in a mostly dominant performance against a foe that kept things tight with a strong defensive effort. And those goals were expected.
That was Arena's halftime message to his team.
"He said just to be patient, goals will come," Zardes said. "Just pressure these guys, you know?"