As the U.S. Men’s National Team attempts to win it’s second consecutive CONCACAF Gold Cup, it brings a new group of players to the national spotlight. Jurgen Klinsmann has stuck to his promise of rewarding Americans playing abroad, and has added Tim Ream (England), Ventura Alvarado (Mexico), and Alfredo Morales (Germany) to his roster.
Although Klinsmann looks down on MLS, he cannot deny the talent of Gyasi Zardes, the young striker currently playing for LA Galaxy. After breaking out at the winter camp earlier this year, Zardes is looking to cement his place on the front line for USMNT this summer.
Here’s what you need to know about Gyasi:
1: It’s Pronounced “JAH-see”
Gyasi was raised in Hawthorne, California. Gyasi spoken about the dangers of his neighborhood growing up. Hawthorne has a bad reputation and is known locally for its drug and gang scene. This environment helped Gyasi find his Faith, which he considers very important.
Off the field, danger surrounded Gyasi. On the field, it was Zardes who was most dangerous. After watching his three older brothers take the field, Gyasi started league soccer at four years old. His father Glenn was very supportive, albeit not knowing much about the game before he had children. By the time he was 9, Gyasi was playing serious travel soccer for regional club teams and was a name to watch.
Gyasi was recruited to the Galaxy Academy, and that’s where he developed a close relationship with former player Kevin Costigan. Under the tutelage of Costigan, Zardes elected to attend Cal State Bakersfield, Costigan’s alma mater. On his own, Zardes matured and thrived, totaling 55 points in 39 games in his two years with the Roadrunners.
2: He Dyes His Hair For His Grandparents
When you see Gyasi on the field, you might think he’s the cockiest player out there. Standing over six feet, dancing after his inevitable goal, with that obnoxious blonde mohawk on top of his head. After hearing him speak, however, it’s clear that he’s far from the typical power striker.
Zardes is a soft-spoken and thoughtful student of the game. Blessed with size and speed, Zardes chose soccer when peers in California thought him better suited for more popular sports. Although he has moments of flair, Zardes stays grounded and humble. Because he plays for LA Galaxy, his family in nearby Hawthorne sees him play regularly. To make sure his elderly grandparents can still spot him from the stands, Zardes dyes the top of his mohawk bright blonde to make himself more visible on the field from afar.
3: He Scored His First USMNT Goal Last Month Against Netherlands
Given coach and overall U.S. Soccer Boss Jurgen Klinsmann’s disapproval of the domestic league, it wasn’t easy for Zardes to crack the USMNT roster. He got his chance at the winter camp, and got noticed for his fitness and athleticism. He made the biggest impression in-game against Panama, when he showed vision and skill feeding Clint Dempsey for the team’s second goal. That performance has stuck with Klinsmann, who has had Zardes in his starting lineup ever since, with the exception of the team’s last warm-up July 3rd vs. Guatemala.
Team USA has gotten a boost in confidence since their tour of Europe. During their final week they were able to knock off two soccer superpowers in Netherlands and Germany. Against the Dutch Zardes scored one of his team’s four goals en route to a 4-3 victory. Zardes tapped in a great cross from Fabian Johnson with his right foot, scoring the first goal of his international career. It was his first goal, but Gyasi has been a threat in every game he’s appeared in for USMNT.
4: He is Married & They Have an Adorable Baby Boy
Gyasi met Madie Goodvin at CS-Bakersfield, where they were both athletes. Madie is originally from Bakersfield, and swam with the club team before attending the school. After swimming her freshman year, Madie transitioned to track and field for her sophomore year. She and Gyasi probably bonded over how nobody pronounces their names correctly, and they were married in December 2013.
In May 2014 Madie and Gyasi had their first child, a boy they named Gyan Asher Zardes. Since birth, “Baby G” has been a fixture on Gyasi’s Instagram feed. Now over a year old, Gyan can be seen hangin’ at the beach, eating Chipotle, and of course, kicking a ball around.
5: Zardes is the First Homegrown Player to Score in an MLS Final
Gyasi was acquired by the Galaxy via the Homegrown player rule in December 2012. This rule states each club is able to sign two youth players per season that live close to the team and have experience with the youth squad. Gyasi struggled in his debut season, scoring only four goals despite logging over 2,000 minutes. He finished 4th in 2013 rookie of the year voting.
Gyasi broke out in 2014, learning under experienced scorers Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan. He set the record for goals in a season by a homegrown player with 16, six of which were game-winning goals. Zardes also made history when he scored the first goal of the 2014 US Open Cup Final against the New England Revolution, becoming the first Homegrown player to score in a domestic final.
Zardes guaranteed salary for 2014 was $198,000, the highest for any homegrown player in MLS. That doesn’t mean anything on star-filled LA Galaxy, where he wasn’t even in the top 5 highest-paid players for 2014. Those honors went to the likes of Donovan, Keane, Juninho, Omar Gonzalez and Stefan Ishizaki. Donovan is gone, but expect Zardes to keep his rank with the impending arrival of Steven Gerrard.