L.A. Galaxy grew Gyasi Zardes’ talent in their backyard
California-born rookie has flourished in MLS, after turning down overseas offers to play for L.A.
When L.A. Galaxy rookie Gyasi Zardes said in a draft day interview, “I’m really looking forward to just trying to learn as much as I can from Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Juninho,” he wasn’t expecting his first lesson from Donovan to come minutes later.
Then again, Donovan, no doubt, wasn’t expecting Zardes to close the interview with, “My skill is just going to blow your mind.”
“Landon called me right away, before I’d even met him in person,” Zardes said Thursday in a phone interview.
“He was just giving me a hard time, and he told me he’d help with interviews.”
The amusing draft-day comment is well behind Zardes, who has let his play do the talking in his first MLS season.
The 21-year-old homegrown signing from Hawthorne, Calif., near the Galaxy’s Carson base, has three goals in 17 games.
He’s earned the trust of coach Bruce Arena, who’s started Zardes in 13 straight games.
And with his speed and agility, Zardes is certainly capable of getting into scoring positions and not afraid to shoot once he gets there. Only the Whitecaps’ Camilo and Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio average more shots per 90 minutes than Zardes’s 4.1.
The Caps are well aware of the threat he poses. Two of Zardes’s goals have come against Vancouver, who host L.A. on Saturday at B.C. Place (6 p.m., TSN2, TEAM 1410). Just a single point separates them in the uber-tight Western Conference standings.
Zardes’s goal at B.C. Place in May was in a losing cause. That night, it was the Caps’ homegrown talent, Russell Teibert, scoring twice. Zardes cut the lead in half with a late header but Darren Mattocks added the insurance goal.
In late July, though, at the StubHub Center, on a night the Galaxy were without Donovan and Keane, it was Zardes scoring a spectacular second-half winner.
He chased down a ball before it crossed the end line, scooped it to himself past flailing defender Brad Rusin, and beat Brad Knighton in goal.
He was also at the heart of Jose Villarreal’s controversial equalizer, a goal that was initially called offside but then corrected.
“I think it’s a coincidence,” Zardes said of his success against Vancouver, “but hopefully there can be a third (goal). It’s going to be a hard game, a hard battle, and we know Vancouver’s going to come to play. Both teams know what’s at stake.”
The bigger picture is that MLS is banking on the likes of Zardes and Teibert — exciting young players with local ties — to grow the game as much as big-name signings like Keane.
The Galaxy picked Zardes for their academy at 16 and developed him as a homegrown player, which is why he wasn’t in the draft (he also predicted, pre-Donovan chat, that he would have gone No. 1).
Zardes was a prolific goal scorer for three years at Cal State University, Bakersfield, before spurning German offers to sign with MLS and L.A.
And along with his club and college, Zardes credits another team’s star for his growth.
Kansas City forward Kei Kamara, who is seven years older than Zardes, attended the same California high school, Leuzinger High. Kamara returned each off-season to the school to encourage and train with the younger players.
“He’s like an older brother of mine,” said Zardes. “Ever since he went pro, he always helped me as a person and player.”
With Donovan and Keane back to forming a deadly partnership up front for L.A., Zardes has shifted to the left wing lately. That means Caps’ right-back Y.P. Lee and his 36-year-old legs are in for another tough assignment Saturday.
“It’s more running,” Zardes said of the position switch, “and I like running.”
© Copyright (c) The Province