(Editorial) – The LA Galaxy are unbeaten in their last seven matches. They’ve won three of their last four games, scoring 14 goals in the process. Their attack has been a big part of their recent form and Gyasi Zardes has contributed to that. The fourth year professional has a goal or an assist in his last four games, 4 goals and 4 assists on the year. Moreover, Zardes is showing a higher understanding of the game in 2016.
Gyasi Zardes’s Soccer IQ Jump And The Galaxy Attack
The 24-year-old has shown his talent and potential for a few years now. He has the ability to make spectacular finishes for club and country. He’s got speed, though he doesn’t often take advantage of it. Despite a slip up or two early on in his career, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. That’s all well and good.
Zardes has also shown his weaknesses. There’s the question over whether he’s a forward or a winger (I’m on Team Forward for the record). He’s shown a lack of understanding and anticipation throughout his career. Even when he scored 16 goals in 2014, much of that was due to the playmaking of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane telling him what to do. Sometimes he takes a shot too quickly and it ends up being a wasted chance: In 2013 he had 4 goals on 78 shots, only 23 were on goal. Then there’s his deplorable first touch.
But there have been subtle improvements in Zardes’s Soccer IQ in 2016. Since being moved back up top by head coach Bruce Arena, he’s showing a higher level of comprehension of the game. He’s picking his head up more to find teammates and holes in the defense. He’s anticipating the play and executing. Even his first touch looks ok at times.
Furthermore, he’s done most of this without Keane, the Batman to Zardes’s Robin. He’s been doing this with Giovani dos Santos, who’s hardly the field general Keane is.
Take his goal in Houston. AJ DeLaGarza wins a header in the midfield. A few touches later, the ball falls to Sebastian Lletget’s lap with space in front of him. Zardes sees this and as soon as Lletget gathers the ball, Zardes is off to the races. There’s no hesitation or reaction.
He anticipates what his teammate is going to do and turns on the jets. He uses his speed to get and stay open. He even raises his hand, almost calling his shot, to let Lletget know where to put the ball. Lletget delivers a good cross and Zardes has a tap in far post.
Zardes had a golazo against Real Salt Lake. He gets a pass from Baggio Husidic and doesn’t have much support in the attack. He takes a few touches to get past one defender. In doing so, he runs into two others. He quickly cuts back to make room for a shot and blasts it far post past Nick Rimando.
This showed his ability to work around defenders when he’s double teamed and doesn’t have an outlet to pass too. He had good ball control on his run. He also showed some creativity in making his own shot, something he’s not considered to be good at. Then there’s his finish on the shot. Magnificent.
The striker had an assist later in that game, but it’s a little hard to tell if it was a bad trap or an intentional pass to Emmanuel Boateng. His head appears to follow Boateng as he makes the run into the box, but his reaction doesn’t indicate that he meant to do what he did.
Zardes had possibly the best sequence of his career on an assist against Sporting KC. The Galaxy are under duress and need to relieve pressure inside the box. Zardes positions himself to intercept a Brad Davis header intended for Nuno Coelho. He waits to play the ball so he can make a great first touch to control the ball and get around Coelho. He then uses his speed to create separation on Roger Espinoza. Simultaneously, he picks up his head and sees Dos Santos up field in space. Zardes delivers a great ball for Dos Santos to run into and chip the keeper to score.
Great understanding of the moment and what his team needed. Great first touch. He got past two defenders on his own. Then he finds a teammate, recognizes what he wants, and executes it to a T.
Last Sunday against New England, Zardes had two assists, both of which gave Keane tap in goals. He made a good play on both, but neither were spectacular. Zardes saw some openings and executed. Arena did say after the match that he “thought Gyasi Zardes had one of his best games of the year.”
The Hawthrone native is making stuff happen. He’s picking up his head when on the ball to become more aware of his surroundings to set plays up for his teammates. He’s making anticipatory runs instead of reacting. In doing so, he’s channel running and creating havoc for opposing back lines. He’s creating his own touch and finishing opportunities. His first touch has improved (still not great at times).
His hold up play still needs some work. He’s not great in the air for being 6’2″. Other aspects of his game could still use some fine tuning. Nothing that training with Keane, Dos Santos, and Alan Gordon can’t fix.
Zardes is showing he’s most valuable as a forward, not a winger. It’s paying off for the Galaxy big time. Most importantly, he’s done this while Keane has been recovering from knee surgery. This shows he’s figuring things out on his own at game speed. Dos Santos hardly directs the flow of the attack the way Keane does. Zardes hasn’t been someone else’s puppet this past month.
It’s clear that Zardes’s Soccer IQ has gone up since 2015. Only good things can come of this for the LA Galaxy and USMNT.