Gyasi Zardes caps off career season with career day in Columbus Crew SC win

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It wasn’t their prettiest game, but Columbus Crew SC will head into the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs with a Decision Day presented by AT&T win thanks to their star striker’s best game.

In an odd game at home against Minnesota United that included five goals and an hour-long lightning delay, Gyasi Zardes put an exclamation point on his career year with his first MLS hat trick, single-handedly outscoring Minnesota 3-2 and securing the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference for Crew SC.

Columbus went into Sunday’s match knowing they needed to win to guarantee a postseason berth. The team sat just two points ahead of the Montreal Impact coming into the final day of the regular season.

But a strange evening meant that they could watch most of Montreal’s 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution in the locker room while a storm rolled through Columbus, and knew they were in the playoffs by halftime of their own game.

“It was strange,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said of the delay. “And then the wind and the rain – it was an odd day.”

The routine-altering weather didn’t seem to bother Zardes, however, who scored three goals after returning from the locker room.

Captain Wil Trapp said Berhalter had a specific motivational message to Zardes before the game, and Trapp said he was thrilled with his striker’s response.

“Gregg challenged him before the game to show his athleticism, to make these center backs work,” he said. “You come out with three goals, and it’s always a good sign. He’s a tireless worker, he’s got a fantastic attitude, he gets himself in the right spots and when he’s on he scores. So that’s exactly what you want.”

Zardes referenced that conversation as well, and deferred all compliments to Berhalter and his teammates.  

“My approach was just to listen to what the coaches expected of me,” he said. “Gregg made a point before the game directly at me, and it was motivation to get the job done, and we did.”

Berhalter said Zardes’ evening was “a mentality thing,” and praised his forward’s tenacity.

“He was aggressive,” Berhalter said. “When he’s lively, when he’s aggressive, when he’s using his physicality, his strength, his speed, I think it makes a huge difference on the game.  He certainly did that today.”

Zardes said his last hat trick – and the only one he can remember scoring – was in college at Cal State Bakersfield. He credited “the system” in Columbus for his 19-goal season, and said he’s already looking ahead to the team’s trip to D.C. United this week in the Knockout Round.

“It’s great that we ended the season on a win,” he said. “We move on to our next opponent and we keep progressing. That’s always been our game model – you progress every week.”