It was a hot start to Gyasi Zardes’ life with Columbus Crew SC.
After an offseason trade from the LA Galaxy, the forward scored in five of his six preseason contests. Then the games started to count, but the momentum did not stop for Zardes.
The Hawthorne, California native began 2018 with the second goal in a 2-0 win at Toronto FC and followed that up with a two-finish performance in his home debut, including scoring the game-winner from the penalty spot against the Montreal Impact.
Quickly Zardes put to rest any questions about if he could find his scoring touch that he appeared to have lost in his last couple of season in Los Angeles.
But then came the game at the Philadelphia Union where Zardes had numerous chances, but could not convert in a 0-0 tie. Last week, back at home against D.C. United, Crew SC dominated the contest with numerous offensive opportunities, but Zardes again failed to find the back of the net.
Despite going two games without a goal, head coach Gregg Berhalter likes what he sees from his striker.
“The Philly game, we were happy with the number of chances that he had,” Berhalter explained. “Last game, when you look at total chances, specifically a couple of corner kicks, he’s getting on the end of them, he had a couple of shots where he’s in position to get it on frame. So we’re pretty happy with that.”
While Berhalter brought Zardes to Columbus primarily to score goals, and replace the 34 finishes that went the other way in the trade in Ola Kamara, the forward is not exclusively graded on how many times he puts the ball in the net.
Of course the Black & Gold would love Zardes to score every game, but there is plenty else he’s on the field to do as well.
“It’s constantly moving and keeping defenders occupied,” Zardes said of his duties.
The 26 year old is doing just that.
According to Berhalter, Zardes’ work rate is near off-the-charts levels for a forward. He is constantly moving along Crew SC’s front line, and the defense has to consistently pay attention to him.
A perfect example of this occured against United on winger Pedro Santos’ goal. Although you won’t see Zardes’ name on the stat sheet, he played a major role.
With Cristian Martinez streaking down the left wing, Zardes sprinted into the penalty box, slowed his run and then darted toward the near post, pulling left back Joseph Mora with him. This left Santos wide open at the back post for his first goal for the Black & Gold.
“The run to pull the defender was a really good run, really smart run,” Berhalter said of the play. “It was an unselfish run. If you wait on that, it closes all the space. So he opened up the space for Pedro’s goal.”
Zardes’ runs have been good all year, whether they result in a chance for him or for a teammate, but that’s not all the forward does when he does not have the ball.
With the opponent in possession, Zardes’ job is to be the first line of defense. He, along with Federico Higuain, pressure the opposition out of the back as to not make things easy for the other team.
“It’s huge,” Zardes said of his defensive responsibilities. “I know when to press, I have cues and when I see them, I begin to press and the rest of the players follow.”
This is important for Crew SC, a team that, on more than one occasion in the past, has been hurt by quick transition. Zardes and Higuain, are tasked with not allowing those counter attacks to occur.
Speaking of Higuain, he has had nothing but glowing things to say about Zardes since the trade, believing he would score plenty of goals with the Black & Gold.
Although the forward, has not scored in two games, Higuain is still happy with what he’s seen from his new teammate.
“He’s a warrior. He’s a guy who runs for 90 minutes to stretch the other team. He’s good in the air, he’s good holding the ball. For us, he’s very, very important,” Pipa said.
“I have no doubt about Gyasi. He’s a forward. He’s helping us, he will help us. He scored and he will score again. I think he’s very good. One of the most important attackers in this league.”
As is the case for any forward, Zardes is on the field to score goals. But as Crew SC has demonstrated in the past, and did so again against D.C., there are a number of players who can put the ball in the net for this team.
For Zardes, if the the goals are coming, regardless of whose foot the strike comes off, and he’s doing what he’s asked, that’s all that matters.
“The primary focus is the team winning,” Zardes said. “You can’t be selfish, especially on this team, you cannot be selfish. So as long as the team is winning, everything is good.”