Little surprise in Crew SC camp as Gyasi Zardes races into Golden Boot lead

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The season is still young, but Gyasi Zardes is Major League Soccer’s leading scorer.

With a brace in Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire, the Columbus Crew SC striker brought his goal total to eight in just 12 games in 2018, passing the likes of Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Bradley Wright-Phillips to become the leader of the Golden Boot race.

The impressive start to Zardes’ first season in Columbus comes on the heels of two disappointing years with the LA Galaxy, but he said he wouldn’t have considered the mark an unreasonable expectation heading into 2018, especially after scoring six goals during the preseason.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised,” he said. “The preseason showed it – this team loves to play their forwards and loves to get their forwards numerous opportunities. So the opportunities are there, and it’s all because of the team.”

Zardes was the only Crew SC field player to start all three matches over the past eight days, and head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match that he knew he was asking a lot of his striker.

“I had a talk with him yesterday,” Berhalter said. “I said, ‘listen, there’s a lot on your shoulders, but you’ve got this. You can do it. You have the ability; you take great care of yourself; you’re a competitor, and these weeks are made for you.’ I think he responded in a really positive way.”

Never one to take credit for his goals, Zardes said his teammates and coaches were the reasons for his success, along with a healthy start to the season.

“I love this system,” he said. “I’m constantly progressing each and every single week and I’m constantly listening to the coaches. They’re masterminds, and I’m just trying to be a better player.”

Zardes’ success comes as no surprise to his teammates, either. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen said the striker’s shots in training are “impossible to save,” and praised Zardes’ work rate.

“He has a killer finish, and he’s a hard worker,” Steffen said. “He never wants to stop, and he’s always down to do extra shooting or extra crossing. He always wants to get better.”

That desire to get better is perhaps the most encouraging factor for Berhalter, who said he’s been thrilled with how Zardes has responded to the expectations and performances.

“I think he grew as this week went,” Berhalter said. “Tonight’s performance was a culmination of a very strong week for Gyasi, and a really strong performance to help the team be successful.”