FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Jurgen Klinsmann made seven changes to his starting lineup in the US national team’s second group match of the Gold Cup. But it was the first player to come off the bench who provided the hosts with the spark they needed in Friday's 1-0 win over Haiti.
Citing the need to improve the width of his team’s attack, Klinsmann removed Jozy Altidore and subbed on Gyasi Zardes to start the second half. And a minute later, the LA Galaxy forward made his coach look like a genius.
“He brings energy, brings mobility, he’s dynamic,” said US captain Michael Bradley of Zardes. “Obviously, he finds space underneath and still connects with guys, but he’s also a threat to run behind.”
Zardes, who started in Tuesday's win over Honduras, needed barely two minutes to set up the game-winner on Friday.
“Gyasi has this special talent to take people on and also with his speed and surprising elements,” said Klinsmann. “Because of these circumstances for all teams to play every three days, we also have to be careful how we bring these players through those first three games. You don’t want to kill them.”
Latching on to a teasing pass into the penalty box from Greg Garza, the Galaxy's rising star squared for Clint Dempsey to smash the decisive goal past Haitian goalkeeper Johny Placide.
“He’s someone the other team really has to respect in terms of his speed and his ability to run,” said Bradley. “That’s certainly shown over the last few months and going forward, he’s a guy that has to be a big part of this.”
Helping the USMNT advance to the knockout stage of the Gold Cup with a game to spare looks likely to make Zardes a key piece in Klinsmann’s plans. Yet the 23-year-old still remains humbled by the opportunity to be part of the group that bear the Stars and Stripes.
“It’s a process that we are watching, that we are helping with,” Klinsmann said of Zardes' progress with the national team. “He’s doing a tremendous job. He has a lot of talent, a lot of potential … It’s a real joy to work with him.”
Friday marks the latest milestone in Zardes' rapid USMNT rise. He's made his senior-team debut against Chile in January, earned his first start in February's win over Panama, netted his first goal vs. the Netherlands on June 5 and has now appeared in all 10 USMNT games in 2015.
“I feel like the more games, the more training sessions I have with the coach and this team, I’m starting to become more comfortable,” said Zardes. “I just really love being with this group of guys. I’m just trying to be players like those guys. Hopefully, I’ll just keep growing as a player.”