CARSON, Calif. – The goals keep coming from Gyasi Zardes, as the second-year forward’s remarkable growth added dimensions to an LA Galaxy attack that was in need of diversity.
Zardes has 10 goals in MLS play this season – half of them game-winners – 13 in all games, has hit the net at least once in 10 of the Galaxy’s last 15 competitive matches and has scored nine times in his last 10 league outings.
It has been clear that Zardes, who showed glimpses of something special as a rookie while starting 23 games last year, mostly on the wing, was capable of such feats, but the future has arrived quicker than anyone imagined.
"You’ve already seen in the last year how he’s evolved as a player, and he’s only going to get better," said Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, Zardes’ partner up top and chief mentor. "As long as he’s willing to put the hard work in and listen to the people around him, he’ll be fine.
"He had an eagerness to want to do well and want to score goals. And if he has that eagerness and grit between his teeth and the bite that you need as a top athlete, he’ll go a long way."
Zardes’ burst has coincided with the Galaxy’s 7-2-4 run since mid-May, pushing them into the Western Conference race. LA (9-5-7) is looking to bounce back from a rough loss over the weekend at Columbus – Zardes scored his team's lone goal, a Goal of the Week nominee, in a 4-1 rout – on Wednesday night at Colorado (9 pm ET; MLS Live).
This run of form is perhaps even more unexpected considering how LA coach Bruce Arena set up the team in the beginning of the year.
Arena added muscle to an often one-dimensional attack during the offseason, bringing in big Brazilian forward Samuel and veteran Canadian target man Rob Friend. Samuel returned last month to Fluminense, and Friend, who has dealt with some minor injuries and is trying to return from a concussion, hasn’t seen significant minutes since mid-May.
Enter Zardes, who at 6-foot-2 also has decent size. He got his first start at forward in June after starting the season on the flank. Since then, he’s nabbed 11 goals in 12 competitive matches.
"You try to plan, have a picture of how things are going to go, but my experience in all the years of doing this [is that] things never go the way you plan," Arena said. "Sometimes they come close to that, sometimes not close at all. No science to it. ... We kind of figured Robbie Keane would be playing [at forward] and somebody next to him. So I had half of it right, at least."
Zardes’ goals are valuable, of course, but he won the job – and draws plaudits – for all the little things he does.
"He’s worked hard at it. Success is not an accident," said Landon Donovan, who moved into midfield when Zardes went up front. "He came in last year, and he was still raw, and he had a number of chances that he didn’t score. Every day after training he spends time working with the coaches, just simple finishing, getting in front of the goal and hitting the target."
Arena said he’s grown in his runs off the ball, ability to hold the ball and his passing. Associate head coach Dave Sarachan likes the nuances to Zardes’ game.
"He’s seeing things earlier," Sarachan said. "Last year, he’d be more reactionary. The ball would come to him; he wasn’t even ready for it. Now as the ball’s getting to his feet, he’s got an idea where the next play’s going, whether he’s turning or laying it off first time. And his first touch and ability to hold up play has improved, and that brings others into the game."
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Much of the advances are product of Keane "just being on his case every day, whether it’s good or bad."
"Just keep reminding him of certain things to do, and if he’s not doing them, well, then I’ll tell him he’s not doing them," said the Irish striker, who has assists on four of Zardes’ goals. "The more you tell people, the more it’s going to click with them eventually, and it’s certainly started to click with Gyasi.
"Of course, he still has a lot to learn, but if he keeps listening and keeps making good runs, I’ll find him."
Zardes said he’s not particularly impressed with what he’s done.
"I don’t fantasize over all the goals I scored,” he said. “I start looking at now. When I’m in the game, in that moment, in my head, I’m thinking, ‘Zero goals, nothing. Prove myself.’
"… I’m not satisfied because I haven’t achieved [anything], you know? It just means that I need to work even harder. I don’t even look at [how many goals I’ve scored]. Keep my head down, stay humble and just work hard."