Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis

This season, Gyasi Zardes has been a revelation in MLS for Columbus Crew. His first season with the club has seen a complete transformation to his last with LA Galaxy.

Coming through at Galaxy, where he made 134 MLS appearances, Zardes was mostly known as a winger. However, with his move to Columbus came a move on the pitch.

With this move, Zardes is now just one goal away from equalling his best scoring season in MLS (16) despite still having eight games left to play.

Positioning at LA Galaxy

Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
Zardes’ heatmap in the 2017 MLS season with LA Galaxy.

As we can see from the heat map above, Zardes’ role when he was at Galaxy was very much that of a winger. Staying wide and using his pace and trickery to get down the wings. With the demands on him at the time and being limited to the wide areas, he wasn’t able to show what he could really do.

As a result, both he and Galaxy suffered from him scoring just twice in 2017 and Galaxy finishing bottom of the Western Conference.

Positioning With Columbus Crew

Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
Zardes’ heat map in the 2018 MLS season with Columbus Crew.

Looking at Zardes’ heat map from this season, there’s a huge difference. Columbus Crew manager, Gregg Berhalter has used Zardes almost exclusively as a striker which has seen the 26-year-old’s game flourish.

At this moment in time, Zardes has scored 15 MLS goals in 26 games this season. This contribution as helped Columbus massively as they currently sit 4th in the Eastern Conference.

What’s interesting when it comes to Zardes’ season, however, is how he’s grown as a striker and added different aspects to his game.

How He’s Evolved This Season

Initially, when he made the transition inside, many would’ve pegged his pace to get in behind as the main reason. Early on in the season that seemed to be the case, as this became very apparent in his movement.

Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
As the ball is played out to the left and the centre back’s begin to follow, Zardes quickly tries to identify which channel he can best exploit.
Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
Hanging off the far centre back’s shoulder this is perfect. His teammate has a great space to aim for knowing that Zardes can make up the ground with his acceleration and score.

There, we saw the basics of Zardes’ striking play and what was probably the primary objective of playing him centrally.

However, as we grew into the season, the threat Zardes carried became much more varied and helped make himself and Columbus less predictable.

Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
Here we see how Zardes has developed as a striker, keeping the defender true and then darting to the front post as soon as he sees his back.
Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
What is impressive about this, however, is that Zardes stops. This allows the defender to carry on his run trying to close space but in fact it creates a bigger space for Zardes to calmly score in.

This highlights that way in which playing more centrally has enabled Zardes not just to think about his pace and what he can do with the ball at his feet.

Instead, he’s begun to mature as a player and play in accordance to the situations he finds himself in and make those situations pan out however he chooses.

We’ve seen this not just with the ball on the floor but in the air too. This season he has scored more headers than he did score goals last season and has come from him pulling off defenders and attacking spaces well.

As a result, he’s found himself having more goal-scoring opportunities and has scored more goals. What this seems to have done as well as add another dimension to the way he attacks is give him great confidence. We saw this when Columbus Crew traveled to many people’s favourite team Atlanta a couple of games ago:

Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
This is an excellent piece of play. Zardes ghosts away from his marker into that massive highlighted space. Wil Trapp doesn’t just see this but is able to play a pinpoint pass deep from midfield and through the lines to find him.
Gyasi Zardes Columbus Crew MLS Tactical Analysis
A striker full of confidence, he decides to go for goal from distance and his shot flies past Brad Guzan into the goal.

Summary

Zardes currently finds himself in great company as 2018’s 4th top scorer in the league behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bradley Wright-Phillips of New York Red Bulls and Josef Martinez.

Should Zardes score this weekend against leaders of the Western Conference, FC Dallas he will most probably beat his personal record for goals in a single season.

Columbus Crew are very likely to reach the MLS Cup play-offs this year and Zardes is a massive reason why. The confidence he has built over the course of the year will very much need to continue if they want to make a real push to lift it.

However, even if they don’t, Zardes can be very proud of his first season with Columbus Crew. He’s grown as a player and added aspects to his game that should see him become an even bigger danger to defences with the more experience he gets playing through the middle in seasons to come.