In the two years since his last goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team, Gyasi Zardes has been through a winding path that has led him back into the squad for the upcoming matches against Brazil and Mexico.
The 27-year-old sits fourth in the Major League Soccer Golden Boot race with 15 goals in his first season with the Columbus Crew, who enter the international break in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Zardes carved out a role in Gregg Berhalter’s system almost immediately, as he established himself as the goal-scoring No. 9 the Crew need for their system to operate at its best.
Just playing in a defined role for the entire season is a welcome sight for Zardes, who at times in 2017 featured at right back for the LA Galaxy.
“Playing the same position each and every single week, day in and day out really helps a player become confident in what position he’s playing,” Zardes said.
“I know Gyasi well. I coached him for years,” USMNT interim manager Dave Sarachan said. “He’s a great pro. He’s having a great season. He’s earned the right to be here and I think he’s embraced the system in Columbus, but I think he can be a real handful as a number nine.”
The owner of 38 international appearances and six goals for the USMNT enters this particular camp as one of the veteran leaders.
Zardes is the second-oldest player in the 25-man squad preparing for Friday’s match against Brazil, with only 29-year-old Eric Lichaj older than him.
Although Zardes is one of the most experienced players at interim manager Dave Sarachan’s disposal, he’s still treating camp like a player hungry to earn his first cap.
“It feels great being back here with the national team.” Zardes said. “It’s a huge honor to represent your country, but also a bunch of great players here. It’s an amazing opportunity for myself to prove myself and also utilize this week to get better. Columbus doesn’t have a game this weekend so it’s a good opportunity for myself to get better.”
Zardes’ perspective is valuable to the USMNT entering the matchup with the Selecao at MetLife Stadium, as he is one of three holdovers from the 4-1 defeat suffered at Gillette Stadium in 2015.
After facing Brazil, the USMNT’s latest clash with Mexico comes into the spotlight on Tuesday.
“It’s a great opportunity to play some of the best players in the world,” Zardes said. “Brazil is a great opponent, and for us, it gives an opportunity to see where we are against those guys. Against Mexico it’s always a battle and once again it’s going to be a great opportunity to play against some of the best players.”
Zardes’ direct competition for a starting spot is Andrija Novakovich and Bobby Wood.
You could argue Wood is the most established international player of the three, but Zardes is in the best form at the moment.
With Jozy Altidore out of the mix and the forward depth chart not as deep as it has been in past years, Zardes has a perfect opportunity in front of him to succeed under his old assistant coach with the LA Galaxy.
If he extends his form onto the international stage, Zardes will establish himself as one of the top players on the USMNT depth chart with more high-profile games ahead in the fall.