Gyasi Zardes is enjoying a rejuvenating campaign with the Columbus Crew. But is his talent coming back to the fore responsible or is it the system that he is allowed to bloom in?
It’s been a remarkable season from Gyasi Zardes. He was unwanted in the offseason. His time at LA Galaxy had come to an end and interest in him was somewhat subdued. Fast-forward six months and he is one of the hottest strikers in MLS. The Columbus Crew are happy for everybody’s disinterest.
The deal that was done between the Crew and the Galaxy involved Ola Kamara going the other way, as well as $400,000 Target Allocation Money arriving in Columbus.
The money was as valuable as the player — the Crew merely wanted another attacker that could, if all things go well, perhaps rekindle yesteryear’s form, and it was Kamara who had demanded a trade. More than anything, their hand was forced.
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Nevertheless, Zardes came. He saw the potential of his role. He is now conquering it. In 17 games, Zardes has scored 10 goals, yielding a goal every 150.8 minutes. He’s also improving. Five of his goals have come in the past seven games, playing the full 90 minutes in all of those games bar one.
It is reminiscent of his 2014 season at the Galaxy, 16 goals in 32 appearances, yielding a goal every 149.5 minutes, an extremely comparable rate to this current season. But in LA, Zardes was predominantly featured as a wide attacker, not an out-and-out centre-forward. That is not the same this year. Zardes is a striker, a goal-poacher with the very best of service. The stats bear it out.
Zardes has already taken 52 shots this season. That is more than every season at the Galaxy bar two, with only four players having attempted more shots in MLS this season. He is second in MLS this year in terms of expected goals, has scored six of his nine open-play goals from within the six-yard box, and has scored every single goal with two touches or fewer.
This is a team that creates a great quantity and quality of chances. Zardes merely needs to put them away. And it is something that the rejuvenated striker accepts as much himself:
"“This coaching staff and the system we play allows me to be much more successful as opposed to other systems I’ve played in the past.”"
Does that mean that Zardes is merely a product of the Crew set-up? Certainly, the central strikers prior to his arrival had great success. It’s not as if Zardes is treading new ground in Columbus, just new ground for himself. Well, perhaps. But it would be unfair on the much-wasted talent to simply dismiss the improvements that he has made to his game.
His movement off the ball is that much more intelligent. He anticipates with far greater sharpness and speed. His finishing has improved drastically, as has his hold-up play, his willingness to work the channels, and his all-around line-leading contributions.
So yes, Zardes is, to an extent, a product of the system. But he is also contributing to that system well. It is an alliance that is leading to a historically great season.