LA Galaxy fans missed Gyasi Zardes in the friendly against FC Shirak last night but he is back at StubHub Center less than 24 hours after that game ended to start for the USMT as they took on Iceland. The US team setup in a 4-4-2 formation with Zardes on top next to Altidore. The wind blowing intensely inside StubHub Center and the rain, at kick-off, was coming down steady in what I would consider “heavy” for Southern California.
Zardes featured for the USMT 19 times in 2015 and finished up the year with three goals and four assists for his country. He looks to be a valuable asset under Jurgen Klinsmann moving into 2016.
The first big play by Gyasi Zardes was just past the seven minute mark where he was involved in a great pass play to Lee Nyguen (NE Revolution) who passed to Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC) on goal but Altidore was ruled offside. He got a big chance in the 15th minute with an amazing cross from Lee Nyguen where he failed to bury a header on a virtually open goal. He sent the ball to the ground and it managed to bounce over the net. I imagine that after the game he will want to take that one back and try again. The Icelandic goalkeeper was out of position and it should’ve been an easy finish after watching replays of the miss. Credit to Zardes for putting himself in the right position to make the shot but he needs to capitalize on those easy goal-scoring situations whether with the USA or LA Galaxy.
Zardes quickly made up for the mistake with a fantastic one-touch pass to Bradley who found Altidore for a goal right at the 20th minute marking the first goal for USMNT in 2016. The quick pass from Zardes was the key that turned this play into a goal scoring opportunity. If this was a MLS game I think you would see Zardes credited with the second assist for the goal but US Soccer does not provide those.
After some back and forth possession and chances from both teams Zardes got another quick chance in the 37th minute after running to goal and a great receiving a cross from Kellyn Acosta of FC Dallas. But Zardes put the finishing ball wide of goal. The defense from Iceland was tightly marking and it was a solid effort from him that he just couldn’t finish from a tough angle at speed. The game entered the half knotted at one goal a piece.
Coming out in the second half it clearly looked like Jurgen moved Zardes to left mid-field and Lee Nguyen has moved up top but playing behind Altidore. It seemed like a solid change and Zardes put a nice header on target but it was saved.
The second goal for the USMNT came in the 57th minute with Jozy Altidore keeping the ball in play with a floating cross to the far post and Steve Birnbaum (DC United), who gets a head on the ball went back across goal to Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana) who buried it home for a goal. While Zardes didn’t put a touch to the ball on the play his positioning was near perfect. When the ball traveled to Birnbaum he pulled off his defender and was positioned at the center of goal almost wide open. His defender is staring at him wondering if he should follow for just a second and that got the defender stuck between him and Orozco resulting in him defending no one. Zardes’ positioning was key in the play and if Birnbaum plays it to him he has an open shot on goal.
At 64th minute mark we saw Michael Bradley put in a gorgeous over the top pass to Zardes but he was whistled offside and the play died. They seemed to be in great understanding of each other on what the play was trying to create. Zardes needed to just leave a few seconds later to stay onside and he would’ve been in on an open goal. A few minutes later Zardes was wide open in the box but a cross from Bradley couldn’t quite make it to him and it was blocked by a defender.
At around the 74th minute mark Zardes is subbed out for Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuggart) and Alitdore stepped out for Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders). LA Galaxy fans should be pleased with the performance and work rate Zardes put on display for 70 minutes. He was back helping on defense, had good positioning, and was impactful on both the USMNT goals while he was on the field.
As much as the LA Galaxy hate Zardes not being in training camp right now USMNT camp and these friendly games provide him a chance to grow as a player. The camp ends February 6th just after the USA vs. Canada game at StubHub Center on February 5th so he will return in just under a week from now.
Zardes, understanding he was playing in front of his home crowd, and perfectly within his character, hung around after the game and signed autographs for the supporters.