Three weeks into the Major League Soccer season, the Columbus Crew is getting all kinds of buzz from around the league. Not only because the Black & Gold are undefeated and sit at the top of the Eastern Conference, but because of a report by MLSsoccer.com insider Tom Bogert that the team is open to trading United States Men’s National Team striker Gyasi Zardes.
Zardes is in his fifth season with the Crew, during which time he has helped the Black & Gold to an MLS Cup title while being a consistent presence on the pitch. Despite his goals going down each season, beginning with 19 in 2018 and finishing with nine last year, Zardes was in his best form in 2020, averaging the best goals per 90 minutes of his career and led the team with 15 finishes. The 30-year-old Designated Player has proven his worth over the years, but head coach Caleb Porter has shown favor to a young star in Miguel Berry early this season.
Following the Crew’s opening game, Porter emphasized that there was no animosity between the two strikers, something they had said as well. They worked to make each other better and were both content with Porter’s decision to start Berry over Zardes in the first game.
“I’d be silly to not play this kid, Miguel Berry, a lot of minutes this year,” said Porter following the season opener.
Porter has kept to his word, starting Berry in all three games this season, and playing him for 206 minutes to Zardes’ 64. However, to Zardes’ credit, both he and Berry have scored one goal in their time on the field.
Earlier this week, Massive Report responded to the report that the Crew was open to trading Zardes with reasons why that would not be a good move. But there is the other side of the coin and we look at why letting Zardes go, if the price is right, might make sense for Columbus.
More minutes for Miguel Berry
Berry has capitalized on the minutes he’s seen so far early in his career. The third-year pro is entertaining to watch and dynamic, and what’s most intriguing is how much Porter is set on playing him. At this point, Berry is clearly Porter’s top striker, but there will always be a question about that while the more-experienced Zardes is on the roster. For Berry to be the striker he has shown promise to be, he needs to have the opportunity to lead the Crew from up top. As willing as Zardes is to let that happen, Berry will consistently lose minutes to the USMNT forward that he could otherwise be using to his advantage.
The Black & Gold need to hone in on making Berry as great as he can be. He’s proven he’s capable since breaking out last season in consistently getting the nod from Porter and delivering on the field. His improvement over his 21 games has shown the promise needed to be a major factor in trading Zardes.
More minutes for Zardes
What the USMNT doesn’t want is for one of its veteran striker to be lacking in minutes heading into a World Cup, should the team qualify, in November. Zardes, who will likely never have another chance to go to a World Cup and this would be his first, will want to play full time with a club heading into more qualifying and the tournament itself.
Though Zardes hasn’t been the United States’ starting striker consistently in this qualifying cycle, he’s put in some minutes. The forward has 14 goals in 68 appearances with the national team and the trust of head coach Gregg Berhatler dating back to their time together in Columbus. In the next eight months, Zardes needs to get into his best form if he’s to be on the squad that goes to Qatar.
Maximizing the DP spot
In a salary cap league, sometimes tough decisions need to made. And what the Crew could get in return for trading Zardes would be substantial, allowing the team to find a new striker who will add depth and not miss major chunks of the season for World Cup qualifying. Each team in MLS only has three DP spots, so using them well is incredibly important. Zardes coming off the bench as a DP is a sign that it is time to make a change.
The Black & Gold started this season strong, and whether or not the rumors regarding trading Zardes are true, they have set themselves up to continue making a solid run through the early part of the season.