Like many similar surrounding cities in the Los Angeles area, the city of Hawthorne has its refined areas and its rough areas. With rough areas also come tough people, like local product Gyasi Zardes, whose hard-working mentality kept him focused on soccer and his path to becoming a valuable forward for the United States Men’s National Team.
Zardes grew up watching the LA Galaxy. With players like David Beckham and Landon Donovan on the field, it is not a surprise that he was inspired to play with the same vigor. Zardes was a first-team All-Bay League performer for Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, Calif. He also represented the LA Galaxy’s U-18 and U-20 teams in United Soccer Leagues.
Zardes’ hard work in high school did not go unnoticed as he was an All-Bay League performer at Leuzinger High School. From here he received scholarships from Penn State and Oregon State but had his mind set on sticking to the Southern California roots that make Zardes who he is.
California State University, Bakersfield was amidst a transition from Division II to Division I and was not giving out scholarships. Zardes was so determined to join its soccer program that he worked at a Jamba Juice to help pay his tuition.
Simon Tobin, now the head coach for the San Jose State men’s soccer team, was the head coach for CSUB at the time. Tobin’s assistant, Keith Costigan, coached Zardes at the LA Galaxy, so the two were familiar with each other. Tobin quickly caught on to Zardes’ persistence.
“He worked and worked so hard. He moved really well, his pace was obviously good. He was a graceful mover,” said Tobin. “He had a nice touch, he wanted to play a very technical game.”
Tobin said that he knew he had a great forward in Zardes but wasn’t quite sure yet what level he could come to until the first time he was allowed to fully practice.
“He kind of just took over the practice and I thought right then, ‘That’s the best player we’ve ever had here.’”
Zardes scored 33 goals in 37 games, in two years with the CSUB Roadrunners. He led CSUB to a spot in the NCAA DI Tournament for the first time in school history.
When he decided to go pro, which Tobin fully expected him to do, he signed with the LA Galaxy as a “Homegrown Player”. This rule allows MLS teams to sign players from their own development academies to their first team roster.
Zardes carried that same determination he had in college on to his favorite MLS team and quickly earned significant playing time, scoring his first pro goal after only three matches.
Zardes made a statement of his ability when he surpassed all previous hard-working, LA-bred players on the Galaxy and set the Homegrown Player single season goal scoring record in 2014. He has a career total of 30 goals and 14 assists with the Galaxy acquired over four seasons.
His career with the USMNT did not kick off as fast, though. He had to wait his turn and he finally made his debut seven matches later and then scored his first goal just a little over a year ago, when he helped the USMNT make an epic comeback to upset the Netherlands, 4-3.
Since then, his hard work has made an appearance to an even larger public eye and he has started all four matches in the 2016 Copa America Centenario. A worthy playing partner to USMNT forward Clint Dempsey, the two scored goals to give the U.S. a 2-1 win against Ecuador on Thursday.
Zardes tapped in the game-winning goal after it flew past goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and left him sprawled across the face of the goal. Zardes and the USMNT play Tuesday against Argentina in the Copa America semifinals. This will be the first time the USMNT has made it to the semifinals of the Copa America in over 20 years.
Tobin’s memories of his former player are fond and he has high expectations for Zardes and his upcoming match.
“He deserves all the success he gets,” Tobin said.