NEW YORK — Columbus Crew SC striker Gyasi Zardes spent his 27th birthday Sunday celebrating a come-from-behind win over New York City FC while packing for a flight to New Jersey.
Zardes was selected by interim coach Dave Sarachan to the United States men’s national team camp at the New York Red Bulls training facility in Whippany, N.J., ahead of upcoming friendlies against Brazil and Mexico.
“It feels great to be back with the national team,” Zardes said.
Zardes entered his first national team camp since January.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to improve myself and utilize this week to get better,” Zardes said prior to the team’s first training session Monday. “We don’t have a game this weekend with Columbus, so it’s a good opportunity for myself just to get better.”
Zardes is considerably improved since the January camp after the LA Galaxy dealt him to Crew SC in a straight swap for Ola Kamara.
After scoring just two times in 24 appearances last season with the Galaxy, Zardes is flourishing in Gregg Berhalter’s system that features a single striker and is currently fourth in Major League Soccer with 15 goals in 27 matches.
“I’m playing up top in the No. 9 position every single week,” Zardes said. “The formation at the Columbus Crew really helps the striker get the opportunity to score. And the coaching staff and the medical staff have done a phenomenal job keeping players healthy, and I think that’s been a huge impact this year for myself.”
Perhaps a reference to the Galaxy’s lengthy injured list, which led to Sigi Schmid’s decision to move Zardes – who scored a career high 16 goals in 2014 – to right back in the latter part of the 2017 season.
Has he played fullback since his arrival in Columbus?
“No, I haven’t — that’s funny,” Zardes said. “It feels great just being a striker – I’m not playing multiple positions. I played a majority of childhood and college as a striker. I finally get to be back up top permanently, and it’s been great.”
Sarachan, who coached Zardes as Bruce Arena’s assistant with the Galaxy from 2013-16, left no doubt about the California native’s role.
“I know Gyasi well – he’s a great pro,” Sarachan said. “He’s having a great season and earned the right to be here. I think he’s embraced the system at Columbus and I think he can be a real handful as a No. 9 – we’ll see.”
With 37 caps since 2015, Zardes enters Friday’s match at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford against Brazil with enormous confidence after leading Crew SC into a favorable playoff position with four goals in his last six matches.
“Playing the same position each and every single week, day in and out, really helps a player be confident no matter what position he’s playing,” Zardes said.
At 27 years old, Zardes also finds himself in the role of elder statesman among a group of talented, young players. The average age in camp is 23.7.
“I always try to lead by example,” Zardes said.
Among the current group in camp, only DeAndre Yedlin (52) and Bobby Wood (39) have more national team appearances.
“I’m not the one to shout or chirp,” Zardes said. “I’m always the one that’s just going to put my head down and work. I feel like if I’m working extremely hard, teammates feed off of that.”