Gyasi Zardes: A College Star Adjusts to Life in MLS
The Cal-State Bakersfield star is starting to find his groove with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Brian Sciaretta chatted with Zardes about his game, his teammates, and the adjustments from college to the pros.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedAT THE START of the 2013 MLS season, few rookies had higher expectations placed on them than Gyasi Zardes. After a stellar college career at Cal-State Bakersfield, which included numerous highlight reel strikes and a scoring rate of 33 goals in 37 games in his final two seasons, the Galaxy signed Zardes to a homegrown contract in December. Along with top draft pick Andrew Farrell and Seattle homegrown signing DeAndre Yedlin, Zardes was expected to be among the top rookies in the league this season after declining an offer from Germany to sign with Galaxy and remain close to home in Southern California. The season, however, got off to a rocky start when he broke his left metatarsal in February and required surgery. As a result, he missed most of preseason and it wasn’t until May when the 21-year-old made his Galaxy debut. (Above: Zardes' college highlights—check them out.) “After surgery I went into rehab and once I came back, I knew it was going to be hard just to get back into the swing of things and compete at a higher level,” Zardes told American Soccer Now. “I just kept working hard each and every single day. Every single person on the field is just as good as you. It’s different than college ball because in college you have kids that aren’t as good. But here, every player is mature and knows what they’re going to do before they get the ball. It’s a whole different ballgame.” The history of highly touted rookies is MLS is rocky. Some have been able to deal with the pressure well. DeAndre Yedlin has consistently performed well this year and Luis Gil in recent years has lived up to the enormous potential he displayed at the 2009 U-17 World Cup. On the other hand, many fail to meet expectations. Zardes is aware of the hype and pressure that have surrounded him so far this year, but he insists that he is able to block it out. He says the key is to remain humble and down to earth. “For me I just kind of block it out,” Zardes said of the hype. “I constantly read my bible every single day. I don’t pay attention to publicity. Everybody’s trying to build me up but I don’t pay attention to that because if I do, it will just take my concentration away from my game. I’ve seen that happen with other players over the years.” “I just stay humble and work hard.” On the field, Zardes’ rookie season has been a learning experience. He has shifted from forward to wing, where he has been spending most of this time in recent weeks. He has shown flashes of his ability but he credits the coaching staff for continuing to stick with him and give him minutes to learn. Thus far in the season Zardes has appeared in 18 games for the Galaxy and has made 14 starts. So far he has three goals on the season. The team itself is improving as the season is progressing. The Galaxy has 16 points in its last eight MLS games and won its opening group stage game in the CONCACAF Champions League against Cartaginés. It is currently in second place in the Western Conference and trails Real Salt Lake by five points. (The Galaxy have two games in hand.) Both L.A. Galaxy manger Bruce Arena and captain Robbie Keane have seen Zardes’ improvement. “He’s very quick and very good in the air,” Keane said. “He’s certainly grown the more games he’s played." Arena agreed that the potential is all there for Zardes: “He has a ways to go, but he’s an athletic kid with a pretty good understanding of the game. He’s going to get better.” For Zardes, improving his finishing is a top priority. “I’m really focused on finishing and making the ball hit the back of the net,” Zardes said. “After practice, I’m working on that a lot. Also being patient in some areas, like if I’m in the box I want to be calm instead of rushing through the play.” Arena’s willingness to use young players alongside established stars such as Keane, Landon Donovan, and Omar Gonzalez, has helped Zardes’ development during his rookie campaign. In addition to Zardes, Arena has frequently called upon U.S. U-20 forward Jose Villarreal and 18-year-old striker Jack McBean. Zardes notes that a lot of the Galaxy players, no matter their stature, spend a lot of time with each other off the field and help each other out on the field. For the Hawthorne, Calif., native, this collaborative, supportive culture has helped him make the leap from college to the pros. “Sometimes when I don’t even feel that I’m doing well, the coaches tell me I’m doing well,” Zardes said. “It’s really about maturing and learning from my teammates. My teammates teach me so much. I’m a rookie and I’m young, but I’m starting a lot of games. A lot of my teammates are telling me to take advantage of these opportunities because a lot of rookies don’t have the opportunity I have.” Zardes and the Galaxy will return to action this Saturday with a home game against the San Jose Earthquakes. Brian Sciaretta is a freelance soccer writer and an ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.
August 28, 2013
August 28, 2013