CARSON, Calif. – Gyasi Zardes had heard all the chatter, so he wasn't too surprised when the LA Galaxy included him in a trade package to Columbus Crew SC last weekend in exchange for Norwegian striker Ola Kamara.
The Galaxy had gone through a massive rebuilding campaign since their 2017 campaign ended with a last-in-MLS finish in October, with 14 players departing – including five of Zardes' fellow Homegrown Players – and the 26-year-old forward/winger figured his time with his hometown club was nearing its end.
“I saw the players this offseason going, and I was just waiting for the phone call for me next, you know,” said Zardes, who is currently with the US men’s national team for their annual January camp. “It’s just a new journey.”
“Every player, once you get comfortable in an environment, when you leave that environment, it's taking you out of your comfort zone. And I think there's only growth from that.”
The Galaxy struggled last year with injuries and depth and lacked a genuine scorer. The trade to pick up Kamara, in the works since November, is the most prominent of the moves Sigi Schmid and LA's staff has made to prepare for 2018. Kamara has scored 34 goals in the past two seasons for Columbus, a total bettered only by New York City FC's David Villa, New York Red Bulls' Bradley Wright-Phillips and Portland's Diego Valeri.
“If I could have kept Gyasi, I would have loved to kept Gyasi,” Schmid said when the Galaxy opened camp Monday at StubHub. “I really admire his work ethic and his approach to the game, and I think he has a ton of good qualities. But sometimes you have to give something up to get something, so we had to do that.
“For Gyasi as well, it's an opportunity. I think Gregg Berhalter's already come out and said he's going to play [Zardes] at center forward. So we'll see how that goes for him, but I wish Gyasi luck. [Columbus'] system is a little bit different, where it's based a little more on attacking through the flanks with speed and then getting service in the box, so he'll get his opportunities.”
Zardes, who scored 34 goals with 17 assists in 131 league regular season games over five seasons in LA, has played up top and on the flanks for the Galaxy. He had his greatest success as a forward in 2014, his second MLS season, when he benefited greatly from Robbie Keane's presence and scored 16 regular season goals and another in the playoffs as LA claimed their third MLS Cup title in four years.
Former LA coach Bruce Arena used him primarily as a winger in subsequent seasons, and he netted six goals in 2015 and again in 2016, when a foot injury knocked him out late in the season. He missed the first month of last season after suffering a knee injury during last year's January camp with the national team, and he never found his best form. He scored just twice, both times in September, and was moved to right back for three starts before a groin injury sidelined him in October.
Zardes said he's spoken only briefly with Berhalter, a former Galaxy captain, and that they didn't discuss in detail where he'll play.
“It's an attacking role,” he said. “It's not right back.”
His wife already has sorted out most of the details for the move to Ohio – finding a home is the last step – and he'll report to Crew SC on Monday after the US's friendly Sunday with Bosnia and Herzegovina at StubHub (9:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás). He says he's looking forward to reuniting with former Galaxy teammate Hector Jimenez and to playing with Wil Trapp and Zack Steffen, who also are in the US camp.
“At the end of the day, it's a business, and from a business perspective, a trade happened, and you have to live with it …,” Zardes said. “I grew up here in Los Angeles, born and raised, but I think change is good. Especially now in my career. Kind of get a little too comfortable with the amenities here, but I think it's going to be great for me and my family.”
For their part, his former Galaxy teammates are sad to see him go.
“That's a bit of a tough one to swallow,” said midfielder Baggio Husidic, now LA's longest-tenured player. “I would say Gyasi probably needed a change, and adding Ola to this squad is a great step in the right direction. But I'll miss Gyasi dearly. He's one of my great friends. Great guy.”