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Why the Crew shouldn’t trade Gyasi Zardes

Some thoughts on the report that the Black & Gold could move the USMNT forward.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Columbus Crew currently sit atop the Major League Soccer table early in the season, so of course, the Black & Gold are in the news for something other than their play to start the season. After not starting in each of the Crew’s first three games to open the year, it was reported on Monday night by MLSsoccer.com insider Tom Bogert that Columbus is open to trading United States Men’s National Team forward Gyasi Zardes.

Last week, various internet and soccer pundits speculated that Zardes should be traded, given that head coach Caleb Porter chose to start third-year striker Miguel Berry in his place to begin the season. Our own Massive Report podcast discussed the idea as well, but these were largely dismissed by most of the Crew fanbase.

However, it’s not hard to see why the Crew would be open to a move. After all, a Designated Player with 131 international caps coming off the bench for a third-year, up-and-coming striker in Berry is a prime candidate to be moved for assets. This possible move would free up a DP slot, create cap space for a starting-caliber player and allow Zardes to play more minutes leading up to this November's World Cup.

But there are many more reasons why the Crew should keep Zardes.

Zardes is still an elite goal scorer

While outside of Columbus (particularly on USMNT Twitter), Zardes is subject to a great deal of criticism, Crew fans have seen firsthand how elite Zardes can be. Although he spent a significant amount time off the pitch in 2021, Zardes still managed to score nine goals for the Black & Gold, averaging just over a goal in every 2 appearances. In 2020, Zardes averaged the best goals per 90 of his career, 0.63 goals per 90 minutes in league play, and led the team in scoring with 15 goals across all competitions.

Until last season, Zardes had led the team in MLS goals in all three seasons since he was traded from the LA Galaxy, including his breakout campaign of 2018 where he scored 19 goals in league play.

With one goal already in limited minutes this season, Zardes has continued to demonstrate that he is a reliable scoring option for the Crew and, at only 30 years old, the striker has at least a few more seasons of elite play left on the table.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Gyasi Zardes is a Crew fan favorite and loves Columbus.
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Crew value striker depth

At the beginning of last season, the Black & Gold were thrilled with their striker depth. Bradley Wright-Phillips was the aging star who was going to play a key backup role for the team and Berry was still playing in the USL for the San Diego Loyal. Obviously, Wright-Phillips did not pan out the way the team expected, but their signing last offseason showed how much both Porter and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko value having two starting-caliber strikers on the roster.

If the team was to trade Zardes, Eric Hurtado would be the primary backup striker behind Berry. Last season, Hurtado failed to score a goal in the nine games he played for Columbus (he was acquired in a trade with CF Montreal where he made seven appearances registering two goals and one assist). The Crew’s streak of injuries last year demonstrated the importance of having depth at key positions and few positions are as important to the Black & Gold’s scheme as a striker who scores goals.

Additionally, there is no animosity between Zardes and Berry. The third-year player has credited Zardes for helping him develop and the veteran has expressed a willingness to help his teammate. While it’s true that Zardes would like to build minutes and score goals to put him in the best spot to make the U.S. World Cup roster following the season, there may be no more unselfish striker in MLS than Zardes.

Keeping Zardes allows the Crew to retain two starting-caliber strikers that both Porter and the front office have been looking for to compete for cups with this team.

Zardes’ contract flexibility

Zardes is currently one of the Columbus Crew’s DPs. This is an important consideration, as each team only gets three players whose salaries can be more than the max allowed under the salary cap. However, due to the Black & Gold’s current General Allocation Money (GAM) and Total Allocation Money (TAM) (tools that allow teams to spend league dollars that don’t count towards their overall cap), Columbus has enough flexibility to buy down Zardes’ contract with GAM and TAM and open up a DP spot, as they did previously with Pedro Santos.

To put it another way, Zardes’ contract isn’t preventing the team from going out and acquiring another elite player to immediately contribute to the squad. That, combined with Berry being on his rookie contract means the team can afford to keep both players, while still having the option to add another top-level talent. Trading Zardes fails to enable the Crew to add any additional talent the team is not already able to add.

As mentioned, there has been no indication from any reporting source that either Zardes or Berry is unhappy with their role. If this is the case, it makes sense for the Black & Gold to keep both strikers for rotation, allowing each to start while also playing a role off the bench. Ultimately time will tell if Zardes is still playing for Columbus by the end of the season, but if the Crew want to be in the news for their performance, Gyasi Zardes should stay with the Black and Gold.