Don't confuse Gyasi Zardes' head start with an inside track, Berhalter says

HOUSTON — After spending 2018 under the guidance of then-Columbus Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter, Gyasi Zardes may have had a head start on his competition for international minutes when Berhalter was tabbed to take over the US men's national team.

Don't confuse that with an inside track, Berhalter insists.

Zardes has featured in three consecutive games for Berhalter's US squad, part of a resume of 34 starts and seven goals overall on the international level since his full debut in a previous friendly against Chile in 2015. The last of those goals decided Thursday's friendly against Ecuador.

Yet Berhalter has made very clear that every game, every practice remains an opportunity to show you are the man for the job.

“So right now Gyasi is familiar with both offensive and defensive movement and we have been opting to go with him to start the game,” Berhalter said. “I think there are [other forwards] like in all positions, and there is always competitions for your place.”

In the long term, the clearest competition might yet be Jozy Altidore, who has 41 international goals and 100 US appearances and is expected to be called into Berhalter's squad for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Altidore had been sidelined for several months with an ankle injury, but returned in Week 3 as a substitute to score the winner in Toronto FC's 3-2 victory over New England. He will still only be 32 if and when the US returns to the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar.

There's also US veteran striker Bobby Wood, currently with Bundesliga side Hannover SV, as well as some promising younger talent based in MLS and overseas.

“We are looking at our entire pool of strikers and you can include guys like Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, and Josh Sargent and Jeremy Ebobisse, who have been in camp before,” Berhalter said.

Zardes was part of Berhalter’s January camp and is considered by the head coach to be on of the guys on the team with most experience helping the new members to find their rhythm in the team's new vision.

As for who gets the nod against Chile? Berhalter noted Christian Ramirez's recent work off the bench, with the LAFC striker scoring his first international goal against Panama.

In the bigger picture, Berhalter hinted at changes overall to the squad on Tuesday, but didn't get into specifics aside from revealing he would give Ethan Horvath the start in goal. New York City FC's Sean Johnson played all 90 minutes against Ecuador, but wasn't required to make a single save.