Don't look now, but Gyasi Zardes is firmly in the Landon Donovan 2020 MLS MVP conversation.
The forward has nine goals and three assists for the Supporters' Shield-leading Columbus Crew, including four goals and two assists over their last three matches. Zardes continues to be dependable for the Crew, and it's no coincidence that he finds most of his chances near the goal, as his meticulous work on the training ground and IQ to make the right run consistently makes him an outlet for teammates.
“Any top striker I’ve been around, there’s no coincidence why they’re good at scoring goals," head coach Caleb Porter said told reporters on a virtual press conference Monday. "They spend a lot of time working on it, that’s no different with Gyasi. ... Those little finishes, those little runs seem simple, but to be able to perfect those teams and execute game in, game out, you have to practice it.”
Zardes' slick backheel finish
Those training sessions are highly competitive, particularly with Zardes going up against center back Jonathan Mensah, a World Cup veteran with Ghana.
Mensah, whom Porter called one of the best center backs in the league, prides himself on locking Zardes down in training when they're on opposite teams.
“When Gyasi scores goals, we know he gets confidence from training," Mensah said. "(In training) sometimes he scores (on me). I always want to stop him because he’s one of the best in the league. If I can stop him, I know I can stop anyone in the league. It’s a healthy competition between a center forward and center back which helps to prepare us.”
Zardes and star attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan formed instant chemistry when the No. 10 joined in a club-record deal from Tigres UANL this winter.
Zelarayan returned from a two-game injury absence this weekend in the Crew's 2-0 win over Nashville SC.
“When I joined the team, I knew Gyasi was going to be my attacking partner and it was important for us to get along well together," Zelarayan said. "It’s something we’ve worked on since the beginning. Gyasi has made it easy for me to adapt to his style and he’s adapted to my game. One of the things that makes him a great player, he has great movement. He fights for every ball like it’s the last in the match, he’s always available inside the box.that makes it easy to find him.”
Zardes, Zelarayan and the Crew host Minnesota United on Wenesday (7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming), and are looking to extend their lead atop the Supporters' Shield standings.