Gyasi Zardes strives to turn first steps into extended tenure with USMNT

BY Kyle McCarthy • February 7, 2015

CARSON, Calif.  --

Expectation swirled around Gyasi Zardes well before he made his international debut last week. His natural ability made him a highly touted college prospect at Cal State Bakersfield. He fostered his raw talent with his encouraging strides with LA Galaxy and underscored his potential with a combination of application and pace well suited to a higher standard. He presented himself as a candidate to play for the U.S. national team over the past year or so. He stood at the halfway line and waited patiently for the chance to transform prediction into reality.

Zardes spent the first two years of his professional career working earnestly toward that moment in Estadio El Teniente. He augmented his natural gifts with a commitment to refine his tactical approach. He learned how to angle his runs more effectively, combine more tidily with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane and take his chances more efficiently. His increased production last season (16 goals) reflected the effectiveness of those efforts.  He worked his way into a position to score in MLS Cup and thrust himself into January camp with the U.S. national team.

The call-up provided him with a chance to accelerate his progression with the right attitude. He grasped it with both hands and placed himself in a position to earn time as a substitute. His first 22 minutes as a U.S. player supplied him with a deserved reward for his toil and a valuable experience to aid his continued development.

“What I took from it was just trying to catch rhythm,” Zardes said in the buildup to the friendly against Panama on Sunday (4:00p.m. ET, ESPN, live coverage on Matchtrax and @FOXSoccerTrax). “You have to catch the rhythm of the game when you come off the bench or even if you start the game. Things become easier.”

Zardes makes it look facile with his long, gliding strides and his considerable production in front of goal, but he underpins his evident strengths with the sort of desire required to extract the most from it. He isn’t content with one good game or one good season. He knows there is more for him to achieve and more polish to apply to his game. He strives for something greater, something more enduring.

“I saw him up close when he scored a couple of times against us [in MLS last year],” U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski said. “He’s a great player. I’ve seen him continue to grow. You see that potential. He has the skill set, but I think he has the attitude. That’s the biggest thing to excel at this level.”

Zardes’ deportment caught the attention of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and several of his new teammates over the past few weeks. The 23-year-old forward entered camp with an evident desire to hone his craft and tailor his game to the international level.

Klinsmann noted Zardes’ ability to adjust quickly to the increased tempo without a corresponding drop in his sharpness. Those traits allowed Zardes to display his talents more readily and settle quickly into his new surroundings.

“He confirmed what we already saw throughout the season: He’s a very, very talented forward,” Klinsmann said. “Now knowing him a little bit more on the personal side of it, he’s very teachable. He’s eager to improve. He wants to improve every day. He wants to do extra shifts every day. He’s hungry. It’s really fun to work with Gyasi.”

Zardes relishes the opportunity afforded, too. This is the next phase for him. He is well prepared for it after meeting the rigorous demands set forth with the Galaxy over the past two years. Those experiences ensure he knows how to make the best use of this extended sojourn with his new international teammates. He intends to soak up everything he can from his experienced colleagues as he states his case for continued inclusion.

“Those guys are phenomenal players: Landon, Robbie, now I’m on the field with [Michael] Bradley and Jozy [Altidore],” Zardes said. “Those guys are veterans of the game. I’m just trying to learn. This is only my third year. I’m just trying to grow.”

The philosophy will serve Zardes well. He is at the start of his career with an expansive horizon ahead of him. His early strides suggest he will do everything in his power to fulfill those hopes in the years ahead.


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