There were questions when Columbus Crew SC traded Ola Kamara to the LA Galaxy for Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money in January. The want-away striker was coming off an 18-goal season, while Zardes had never scored more than 16 goals in a year and was coming off a two-goal campaign where he eventually was moved from forward to outside back.
In the end, it was a good piece of business for Crew SC and sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter. Zardes came in and fit seamlessly with the Black & Gold system. The striker finished the regular season with a career-high 19 goals, tied for fourth-most in Major League Soccer and the most by an American striker in the league.
On Wednesday, Zardes was rewarded for his return to form in 2018 when he was named MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
“We are immensely proud to have Gyasi as a member of our club,” Berhalter said in the press release. “Since his first day joining the team in preseason, Gyasi has been committed to learning our system, embracing our culture and representing our club in the community. Gyasi’s work ethic and openness to improve is a great example for younger players and we are very happy for his well-earned success this season.”
Zardes becomes the first Crew SC player ever to take home the Comeback Player of the Year award. The forward received the most votes in polling among the three voting groups of current MLS players, MLS club technical staffs (coaches, technical directors/general managers) and a select group of media members.
While with the Galaxy in 2016, Zardes played in just 19 games, scoring six goals. In early 2017, Zardes underwent knee surgery and made 24 regular season appearances for LA, scoring two goals before he suffered another injury in October.
A change of scenery was good news for Zardes. He looked like a quick fit for the Black & Gold in preseason and that translated into the regular season, scoring three goals in his first two matches. After a year of success, which included scoring 17 of his 19 goals at Columbus’ MAPFRE Stadium, Zardes continued the scoring in the MLS Cup playoffs, with the game-winning goal in Crew SC’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinal Leg 1.
In addition to leading Crew SC in goals during the 2018 regular season, Zardes also led the team in game-winning goals (4), minutes played (2,948), shots (88) and shots on goal (40). Zardes’ 10 goals sees him fall in third plays for scoring in a single season for the Black & Gold behind only Stern John (26 goals in 1998) and Kei Kamara (22 goals in 2015).
Crew SC return to the field on Sunday when they face the Red Bulls again for Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.