He’s a No. 9 again, the position he grew up playing, a position he thrived in and is most comfortable in.
And unlike in the past, he’s in the same position for every match in coach Gregg Berhalter's system, allowing Zardes to shine for his club and garner notice from the US national team.
“Playing the same position each and every week, day in and day out, really helps a player become confident in what position he’s playing,” Zardes said before the first day of US camp ahead of Friday's friendly against Brazil (7:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, Univision Deportes) at MetLife Stadium.
The 27-year-old scored only twice a season ago in his final season with the LA Galaxy, one that saw him play at times out wide and even as a right back. Fast forward less than a year through 27 games with Crew SC and Zardes has scored 15 times, one off his career-high set in 2014.
US coach Dave Sarachan knows well what Zardes can do, working with him as a Galaxy assistant.
📢 CALLED UP! 🇺🇸#CrewSC trio @zackstef_23, @wil_trapp and @gyasinho will rep the Stars & Stripes for @ussoccer_mnt's friendlies against Brazil on Sept. 7 and Mexico on Sept. 11!— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) September 2, 2018
➡️ https://t.co/U3ekWUvEI3 pic.twitter.com/RJBfMYQhCe
“Great pro, he’s having a great season, he’s earned the right to be here,” Sarachan said. “I think he’s embraced the system in Columbus, but I think he can be a real handful as a No. 9. So, we’ll see.”
Zardes has 38 caps and six international goals, but 31 of those appearances came between 2015-16, including 19 in 2015. Now, the in-form striker is back and excited for what’s ahead in the coming weeks with a showdown against Mexico in Nashville on Sept. 11 (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás, Univision Deportes) after facing Brazil Friday night.
“It feels great being back here with the national team,” Zardes said. “It’s a huge honor to represent your country, but also there’s a bunch of great players here and it’s an amazing opportunity for myself just to prove myself still and also utilize this week to get better.”
Zardes is one of the few players in this camp to have actually played Brazil before. Friday’s match will be almost three years to the day since the US fell 4-1 to the Seleção at Gillette Stadium. Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin started that game, with Bobby Wood coming off the bench.
“It was a good opportunity, played against Neymar, Willian, Douglas Costa. Those guys were fast and very skillful,” Zardes said. “It’s going to be another great test this upcoming Friday.”
As strange as it sounds, Zardes is an elder statesman in this camp, with Sarachan again choosing to showcase younger players who will likely form the future core. That puts him in somewhat of a leadership role, though not necessarily a vocal one.
“I always try to lead by example. I’m not the one to shout or chirp,” Zardes said. “I’m always the one that’s going to put my head down and work. And I feel like if I’m working extremely hard, teammates feed off of that.”