LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes scored the game-winning goal on Thursday night as the USA punched their ticket to the Copa America semifinals for the first time since 1995 with a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Ecuador.
For that semifinal match next Tuesday in Houston, the USA will likely be relying on Zardes to score again after starting striker Bobby Wood received a yellow card that triggered an automatic one-game suspension. Zardes could potentially move from his regular right midfield position to his preferred center forward role in order to take over for Wood at NRG Stadium. That's where many are expecting the USA to face world power and No. 1-ranked Argentina, a team that takes the field for its quarterfinal on Saturday night.
"It means a lot,” Zardes told Univision after the match about the prospect of facing the Albicelestes. "Argentina is a good side, but they have to do their part and win their game first [vs. Venezuela on Saturday, 7 pm ET on FX, Univision, UDN]. But whoever our opponent is, our coaches do an amazing job at getting us prepared. And I have full faith and confidence in our coaching staff."
Those are the kind of positive vibes in US camp that Zardes feels are fueling the USMNT’s Copa America run. The Americans were organized and worked hard in the first half, but Ecuador’s second-half onslaught in search of an equalizer pushed the USA deeper and deeper into their own area and into emergency defending situations.
“You know, our team showed a lot of character,” Zardes told FS1 after the match. "Our captain, Michael [Bradley], brought us in and, as well, the coaching staff made some key substitutions. But our mindset was moving forward. It wasn’t dwelling on the past. And as you can see, the result is what it is because of everything that happened.
"The unique thing about this group is unity. We battled for each other,” Zardes continued. "We’re working hard together. It’s been over a month with each other and you can see the brotherhood. It’s amazing."
In the first half, Zardes was busy on both side of the ball to cover his right flank, where teammate and right back Fabian Johnson also pushed up frequently in the first half.
But even with all his tracking back, Zardes still found a way to be involved in attack and in the 65th minute he was there at the back post to touch a ball over the goal line served up by US teammate Clint Dempsey.
Zardes was very matter-of-fact when it came to how the USA created their goal-scoring opportunities against Ecuador.
"Just making third-man runs,” Zardes explained, "and really just linking up. It was really pretty easy."
Easy? There’s got to be a secret. How does Zardes find it in him to put in all the work he does?
"The energy here is just phenomenal. It was the backbone,” he said about the Seattle fans. "American Outlaws really came out and supported us. Not only that, our whole team -- it was a hard fought battle and we came out victorious."