If you try something and it doesn’t work, you try again. If your second attempt is unsuccessful, you have to keep on experimenting until you get it right. It seems like that’s what Bruce Arena and LA Galaxy have been doing with their Homegrown Players.
First it was Tristan Bowen. The tricky attacker only lasted two seasons with the Galaxy before he joined Chivas USA. He appeared 18 times in a Galaxy uniform and tallied two goals.
With Bowen off their books, LA secured the signature of very talented Jack McBean. The 19-year-old displayed his unique talent by scoring in his first appearance against Houston. That goal, in a 3-1 loss, made him the youngest scorer in LA’s history.
The next season he only made one appearance off the bench. In 2013 he looked set to become a regular, but could only produce a goal in 15 games. That year might have been his last chance to prove himself. At the beginning of the 2014 season, he was loaned to LA Galaxy II.
Months after signing McBean, LA picked up a talented stud from Inglewood, California. Jose Villareal looked like a player destined for greatness. He was full of confidence, energy and an exciting swagger on the ball.
In his two seasons with the Galaxy, he played 32 league games and scored three goals. He was loaned to Cruz Azul before the beginning of the 2014 season.
With little success with forwards that come out of its academy, LA Galaxy gave it another try with Gyasi Zardes. The towering forward has been a major coup. Last season, he scored four goals and assisted another four and finished fourth in the MLS Rookie of the Year voting.
I’m not trying to imply that Bowen, McBean and Villareal are failures. They are all still very young, and as long as they keep working hard and improving, they should all have productive careers.
Gyasi’s success could be credited to the fact that he played competitively in college before making the transition to the professional level. The 22-year-old tallied 38 times during a three-year career at CSU Bakersfield.
In 2014, the devoted Christian is taking it upon himself to lead LA back to its glory days. He has six goals and one assist from just eight starts. The fact that he splits his playing time with a role of the flanks and a more central position, makes his numbers more remarkable.
The Hawthrone, California native has scored all his goals and recorded his only assist during LA’s eight-game unbeaten streak. During this spell of impressive results, Gyasi’s unique skillset has complemented Robbie Keane’s creative instinct.
I refer to his adroitness as unique because rarely do you see a forward that possesses size, power, speed, footwork and incredible vertical jump. It’s not every day that soccer fans get to witness a 6-foot-2 forward outrunning a fullback, outmuscling a center half, maneuvering his way past a skilled defender and rising above towering center backs.
Zardes is blessed with the physical attributes and since he became Keane’s partner up top, he has been using his athleticism to produce goals. He gets in good position by using his body to shield off his defender or using his speed to run into dangerous holes.
Against New England Revolution, Zardes’ pace and movement torched Jay Heaps’ backline. Both his goals – assisted by Keane ‒ came off great movement, superb anticipation and precise finishing.
Just like most raw talents, Zardes’ technical and tactical deftness needs more polishing.
Due to Arena’s emphasis on ball movement, Zardes has to become a better passer. The second-year professional has only completed 74.3 percent of his passes this season, according to whoscored.com.
For someone that’s physically imposing and athletic, Zardes needs to be a consistent scoring threat. He has only fired 23 shots, eight on target, this season. If he wants to be one of the top scorers in the MLS, he needs to take more shots.
Another problem is his lethality in front of goal. In his short career, Zardes has not been the best finisher. He could have scored a hat-trick the Revolution if not for his lack of expertise in front of goal.
In the 15th minute of that game, the quick forward ran onto a sublime through ball. Highly-rated defender Andrew Farrell was the only man standing between him and a one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper. Zardes used his pace and power to shrug off Farrell, but his attempt was saved by the goalkeeper.
All these flaws are alarming, especially for a striker, but with more playing time and practice with the likes of Landon Donovan and Keane, Zardes should become one of the most dangerous scorers in MLS.
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