Age at MLS Cup: 29
Hometown: Hawthorne, CA
2020 IN ALL COMPETITIONS
Gyasi Zardes accomplished a lot in 2020. With his 12 regular season goals in the COVID-shortened season, he became the first player in Crew history to lead the club in goals scored on three separate occasions, doing so in each of the last three seasons. Brian McBride, Stern John, Jeff Cunningham, Edson Buddle, Alejandro Moreno, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and Ola Kamara had all led the Crew in goals on two occasions, but that incredible list of players now finds itself looking up at Gyasi.
Here’s a video someone made of Gyasi’s 15 goals in all competitions from 2020, including a pair where he does that trick whereby he lets the goalkeeper save his penalty kick and then knocks the rebound into the empty net. It’s a clever way to stymie those people who like to measure only non-penalty goals.
If there’s one thing that disappoints me about MLS Cup 2020, it’s that the Crew only humiliated Seattle 3-0 instead of 96-0. But if there are two things that disappoint me about MLS Cup 2020, it’s that Zardes didn’t get to score a goal. Josh will extol Gyasi’s many virtues, but even just for that specific game, I felt his defensive work, especially on corner kicks, was terrific and he made so many good runs on offense. I just felt he deserved a goal for the total body of work all season and on the night. Alas, it wasn’t to be, but I’m sure the trophy was more than enough consolation. (And he scored a goal in LA’s MLS Cup win in 2014, so he’s had the thrill of an MLS Cup goal before.)
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES
“Okay, I have to add one to the most-liked on the team. I said Harry and Darlington, and now I need to add Gyasi. He’s such a ferocious competitor on the field but probably the nicest person off the field you are ever going to meet. I think if you asked everybody on the team who is the overall nicest guy on the team, they would all say G in a unanimous decision. He always has a smile on his face.
“I like surrounding myself with people like G because he has a hunger to get better and that is contagious. He always wants to get better and he always wants to win. He was also someone in the teqball world that we created, we would always mess with him and not put him in the top three in the rankings. He’s so gifted in the game and he used it as fuel. You could tell he was the one who took the rankings very seriously. I loved that because that’s exactly what I wanted out of him. We would always get a fueled-up G because he wanted to break into the top three.
“He’s always the first guy on the field. He bought his own net that has the corners cut out in the bottom corners of the goal. And he’s always wanting someone to whip in some balls for him. He reminds me of Jeff Cunningham in that they are always working on their game. They are constantly working on things they need to improve on. I remember Jeff would say during crossing drills, ‘Don’t worry about hitting it nicely.’ He liked dirty balls being played in to him. He said that all forwards are supposed to score the nice one that is bent right onto their head. He said, ‘Those are the easy ones, but you accumulate goals in this league by converting the crosses that aren’t pretty and you finish those half-chances. It’s those other balls that are making me money.’ So I heard stuff like that from Jeff and I see it in G all the time. There’s a hunger not only for scoring goals, but there’s also a realization that in order to accumulate the goals and wins and to put up the types of seasons he’s capable of having, you need to convert the half-chances. And he’s starting to do that. Look at the playoff header against the Red Bulls. That type of lofted header to the far post is a poacher’s goal. When he came here, I don’t think he was much of a poacher. So I think his desire to get better is something we are seeing play out on the field. I’m seeing him score goals now, and that playoff header against the Red Bulls is probably the best example, where he wouldn’t have scored that goal when he first came to the team. Only an individual can take themselves to that level.”
“He’s just the best teammate you could ask for. And he’s another one of these guys where one of your best players is the type of person who is willing to be selfless. When people bring him up, they always talk about the goals and I let them finish because they’re absolutely right because he’s a great number nine right now. But to me, it’s about his work defensively and his ability to sprint all game long. He’s got Caleb yelling at him to run and press and he does it. And then he challenges headers. We’re playing Cincinnati and he’s got Waston jumping all over him and he’s challenging for every single one of these headers. We ask him to do so much besides score goals and he does it all with a smile on his face. It’s just a special quality to have in a number nine and in one of your best players. It’s true of all of our best players. Jona, Darlington, Lucas, G…when these guys are the hardest-working guys and the most selfless guys, there’s only one option, and that’s winning. That’s the only thing that’s gonna come out of that. To have G be that type of person, I can’t say enough about him. I love him for that.
“One of the things I told my mom, and I think maybe it was the Nashville game, but I told her, ‘Watch on corners. Jona and I get locked on and tasked with guarding the biggest guys and we’re tall tied up with them, but then G springs out like a damn salmon going upstream and heads the ball out.’ And then he takes off sprinting after the ball.
“He’s just a complete number nine in my eyes. The best way I can compliment him is to say that his game is so complete now. Goals, hold-up play, passing, movement, heading ability, defensive work, his ability on set pieces both offensively and defensively, it’s like what can’t he do? He’s one of those guys I love having on my team and hate to play against, and I have to do that in training. He’s willing to do all that work in a game and it is so taxing on a defender. I would have liked for him to score in MLS Cup, but he didn’t get it. I hope he knows how much our defense and our entire team appreciates him. That’s really the best compliment I can think to give somebody. The entire team truly, truly appreciates who he is as a player and a person.
“For me, personally, my favorite MLS Cup moment with Gyasi was after the game and there was a moment where me, Hector, and G all found each other and embraced each other. We’ve all become such close friends off the field but we still hold each other accountable for the work we do on and off the field. So at training, it’s all about taking pride in our work. We think alike, and there are other guys on the team that think that way, but I’ve spent the most time with those two on and off the field, so to have that embrace with Hector and G was special. We all just basically looked at each other like, ‘We did it! It actually happened!’ So for me personally it was sharing that moment with G and Hector. I know how hard they work and the sacrifices they’ve made. There’s a selflessness that they’ve shown the entire team. And it’s been that way for years, not just this year. So as good as a soccer player as G is, I loved celebrating with him because of the type of person he is. He’s one of the best people I’ve met in my life. It meant a lot to share that moment and to see his joy. He’d already won it before, but I think in that moment he felt we had built something cool and we were finally able to pull it off. I always joke with him and Hector that they basically cheated with the other two (MLS Cup titles they won with the Donovan-Keane era LA Galaxy.) That team was a cheat code. So to have that moment and to share that moment with them here was a special moment.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
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