The 27-year-old striker scored a career-best 19 goals in his first campaign with Columbus Crew SC, tied for fourth-most in Major League Soccer, and he's the most experienced striker in Berhalter's first camp as national team coach.
Zardes feasted on the service the Crew provided from Berhalter's attack-first tactics, so keep with that, and he should do well for the US, right? Not so fast. Berhalter's attacking scheme in this year's January camp at Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center isn't quite the same, and that means the Hawthorne, California native is having to adjust.
That's a good thing, he says.
“It's a new formation in this lineup that Gregg is asking of us,” Zardes told MLSsoccer.com on Monday, “and I feel like as a striker, I'm starting to see the ball more, and I'm just trying to get better in all aspects of my game. ... It's a new system. It has similar characteristics, but my role is much different.
“I love the challenge, and I love just being here [as] a part of this group. There's a lot of guys eager to progress as players, and I just love pushing myself and getting pushed by them.”
Zardes debuted with the national team at the January camp four years ago, after a 16-goal breakout season with the LA Galaxy, and won 27 of his 40 caps – while scoring all six of his international goals – during his first two years with the squad. Injuries slowed him down the next two seasons in LA, and the USMNT calls came more infrequently.
There was debate with the Galaxy on whether the Homegrown was better suited as a striker or as a winger, with both Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena opting to use him, for the most part, in a wide role. It was during last year's January camp, at the Galaxy's home base in Carson, that Zardes was traded to the Crew, and Berhalter – a former Galaxy captain – immediately installed him up front.
“Striker is my best position,” Zardes said. “I played [there while] growing up, I played it in college [at Cal State Bakersfield], and played it professionally, even with the Galaxy. I played striker that 2014 year that we won the MLS Cup.
“I love playing up top.”
Berhalter had no doubt.
“He has versatility, and I think his primary position will be striker,” the US coach said. “I think his second position would be maybe striker in a two-striker formation, where he can work off of another striker. I think, third, he can play winger if he needed to. I don't think that's his primary position, but I think he can fill in.”
Zardes, who grew up just a few miles from Galaxy headquarters, is a most conscientious player, and working with the cerebral Berhalter challenged him in ways he hadn't been before. He relished it.
“I kind of stepped out of my comfort zone by moving out of Los Angeles, and I loved every bit of it,” he said. “I really paid attention to the coaching staff, what they wanted from me. Every training session was a challenge, and I love it because it was always pushing me as a player, to think off the ball and on the ball.
“I've learned so much [from Berhalter]. I love learning from him, because he has a bright mind and he makes things crystal clear.”
The new system is an adjustment, but Berhalter likes what he's seeing in Zardes.
“[There are] a little bit of stylistic changes, in terms of how we're playing that he'll have to get used to, and we'll have to walk him through,” Berhalter said. “But what I've been really impressed with [by] Gyasi is his willingness to take information in.
“I think that was a big part of his success in Columbus. He was really open to learning and the detail that were giving him. He's a real team player, and his teammates appreciate that.”