The U.S. Men’s National Team is fortunate enough to have a pair of strikers capable of coming up big when called upon. The old guard is represented by Jozy Altidore, who is a 29-year-old veteran with more than 100 appearances over the last 12 years. Then there is the slightly younger Gyasi Zardes, who is the one making waves in the 2019 Gold Cup.
Zardes has been the target of a lot of criticism lately, having been seen by some as a one-dimensional sort of player who struggles to create opportunities for himself. But, there are two things he has brought to the table as the USMNT has opened their Gold Cup run with wins over Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago by a combined score 0f 10-0. He has brought a strong workrate that works exceptionally well in Gregg Berhalter’s pressing system and a knack for being in the right place at the right time, which works well regardless of tactics.
Zardes scored twice in the USMNT’s 6-0 drubbing of Trinidad in their second group stage match on Saturday night, and the first of which was true to his style of getting to the right spot on the pitch to poke a goal in.
“You know me,” Zardes said after the match about the first of his two goals, “I look for the open space. Play the ball out wide, look for the open space, and sure enough, just crash the goal and just be ready for the ball to come at you.”
His second goal was a little bit more of a skill move. He collected a pass from Christian Pulisic before turning inside and picking out the top corner. While he may have more of a poacher’s reputation, especially considering his first two goals in the tournament, but he still does have a finishing ability that can create a chance like that one.
Zardes has improved in form since Gregg Berhalter took over the team. Of his ten international goals, four of them have come since Berhalter was hired. Zardes was familiar with the new coach’s tactics and style from when both of them were with the Columbus Crew and that’s helped him adjust to how the USMNT does things now, even if it’s more intense than anything he experienced in MLS.
“Some of the foundations are very similar to he we played at Columbus Crew last year,” Zardes said. “But there’s different elements now, it’s like we’re on steroids now. It’s pretty cool to try to learn these new methods, these new movements. You see me getting the ball deeper and connecting. I really enjoy playing here.”
That familiarity has given him a slight leg up on the battle with Altidore for the starting striker position, but that all could change at any moment. Fortunately, the two of them work together while competing for playing time and support the other when they aren’t on the field themselves.
“It feels good scoring, but me and Jozy, we’re like brothers,” Zardes said of his teammate. “If he’s on the field I’m gonna be supporting him 100% and vice versa. When I’m on the field he’s constantly supporting me, in training sessions giving me feedback. I really admire that. He’s such a mature guy, I’m learning so much from him and whoever’s playing up top we have each other’s back.”
Altidore replaced Zardes against the Soca Warriors after the starter had already bagged a brace and came inches away from netting his hat trick. In his short 15 minute cameo, Altidore displayed the attributes that made him the striker of choice for years with the USMNT, despite not actually scoring in the continuing flurry of goals.
Altidore may get the start in the group stage finale against Panama since Zardes has played the better part of 165 of the first 180 minutes of the tournament, but that shouldn’t be held against Zardes, who has a role on the team and brings a consistency that Berhalter appreciates.
“We work as a group, we support each other, and Gyasi’s a guy that you know exactly what you’re gonna get from him and I’ve said that all along,” Berhalter said in the postgame press conference. “And you need in your squad of 23 players you need a majority of the guys that can give you what you’re asking and Gyasi’s a guy like that. So we’re proud of him. We’re proud of his effort. We know that he has a good ability, he’s a tremendous worker and it’s nice to have him in the squad.”